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Mother’s COVID-19 recovery makes every day a day of Thanksgiving

One Memphis family has been celebrating Thanksgiving since Oct. 30. That’s when Sylvia Carter was released from the hospital.

The odds were that she would not survive her four-month COVID-19 ordeal but she made it. And, three of those months, she “slept” through.

Her story is among many making the 2020 Thanksgiving observance unlike anything most would have imagined a year ago.

“I was the first one to get the virus,” said Carter’s daughter, Khristen Aytchan, 36. “When I tested positive, I had my son tested. When he came back negative, I shipped him off to stay with a friend.”

Khristen Aytchan (Courtesy photo)

Carter also got tested and her initial test came back negative. When she started coughing badly and developed a fever, Aytchan became concerned.

After Carter began suffering from shortness of breath, she was taken to Methodist Hospital. That was June 27, one week after Aytchan tested positive.

Once under the hospital’s care, Carter was re-tested for COVID-19. This time, the test came back positive.

“The shortness of breath continued,” said Aytchan. “They were giving my mother oxygen, but her oxygen levels were not going up. It was scary, really scary.”

Then, on July 5, Carter was put on a ventilator. Aytchan knew that for many, the ventilator was a one-way street. Many patients put on a ventilator never recovered.

“The doctor told us she would be sedated while on the ventilator,” said Aytchan. “And she had . . . a feeding tube. We couldn’t go to see her because she had COVID-19. It was a really sad and stressful time.”

Then, Aug. 4 came, and Aytchan got a call from the hospital. The settings on her ventilator had been increased; doctors had done everything they possibly could to raise her oxygen levels. But Carter was just not responding. Her oxygen level could not sustain life. Aytchan was told to come to the hospital if she wanted to see her mother one last time.

Sylvia Carter in a pre-COVID-19 moment with her 12-year-old grandson,
Kameron Atychan. (Courtesy photo)

Carter’s family and close friends joined Aytchan at the hospital. Aytchan’s only contact with her mother was an iPhone close to her mother’s face. She had to watch her mother’s life begin to ebb through a glass partition.

“We were crying and praying,” said Aytchan. “Just to see my mother in that state, on the ventilator, and I wasn’t able to hold her hand or to embrace her. We prayed and prayed and asked the Lord to save her life. I cried my eyes out. Finally, I went home.”

Aytchan waited for the hospital to call, hoping against hope that her mother would make it through that near-fatal episode of respiratory distress.

“I told the hospital when I left, ‘Please call me if anything changes, or I will call you,’” said Aytchan. “The very next day, the phone rang, and it was the hospital. The doctor said, ‘Somehow, Ms. Carter’s oxygen levels started to go back up.’ They were amazed, couldn’t explain how that happened. I wanted to say, ‘Do you know about a man named Jesus?’”

Carter’s heart was fine after coming out of that crisis, but tests showed she had suffered a stroke while under sedation.

“Her left side is weaker than her right side,” said Aytchan. “But there was no paralysis.

Those first moments, when she saw her mother awake, are etched forever in her mind.

“I said, ‘Hey Mom, how are you doing?’ And she said, ‘Where is Kameron?’ Kameron is her grandson. And I said, ‘Okay, never mind me.’ But it was so good to see my mother awake and responsive.”

Near the end of September, doctors began weaning Carter off the ventilator. She was then moved to Regional One Medical Center to continue recovery and to begin physical and occupational therapies.

Carter learned that she had been under sedation for three months in the hospital. There was some confusion on dates, but her memory is in tact.

On Oct. 30, she was released from the hospital, with great fanfare and cheers from hospital staff, family and friends, who had gathered to witness the event. As if back from the dead, Carter had beaten the odds and recovered from the ravages of COVID-19.

Sylvia Carter was the center of attention after her release from Methodist Hospital, where she endured a months-long battle with COVID-19. (Courtesy photo)

“When the Lord answers prayer and lets your loved one live on, it just makes you so grateful,” said Aytchan. “We have been celebrating since my mom got home. We appreciate all the blessings of God. But when Jesus heals a loved one who is so sick, I don’t guess there is much else you need. Every day is a day of thanksgiving.”

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