'I was close to death' — Kirtland teacher chronicles her COVID-19 experience

Kirtland teacher
Posted at 5:10 PM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 21:49:55-04

KIRTLAND, Ohio — As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases grows worldwide, we’re beginning to put faces and names to some of those patients.

Watch this story on News 5 at 6 p.m.

“This is not a joke. This is not a hoax. This is serious,” Kelly McAfee said. “I almost died from this and I’m a healthy person.”

It’s been three weeks since McAfee’s first COVID-19 symptoms began.

“I went to bed that night. I couldn’t sleep,” McAfee said, “Started having really bad chills and all of a sudden I wasn’t breathing anymore.”

For her and her family, it’s felt more like a lifetime.

“This is serious business. It doesn’t care who you are,” McAfee said, “It will attack you and it can kill you, even if you’re healthy.”

McAfee, an otherwise healthy teacher at the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, began showing symptoms of COVID-19 back on March 18.

“I started with just a little bit of a cough,” McAfee said, “And I made a joke on Facebook that, ‘Oh my gosh. Is it allergies or is it the coronavirus?’”

She first sought treatment at University Hospitals Richmond Medical Center.

McAfee said because she had no prior serious health conditions, she was surprised she qualified for a COVID-19 test. She said she was seen by a physician quickly and was then sent home to wait for her test results.

“What I didn’t know at the time was that if you’re admitted into the hospital you get your test results back in 24 hours,” McAfee said, “If you’re not admitted it takes a week.”

She said her condition took a turn for the worst several days later.

“I knew that I needed to go or I was going to die,” McAfee said.

On March 24, McAfee said she still had not received her COVID-19 test results from six days prior.

“I knew I was close to death,” McAfee said, “Within the next couple of days I knew that it was very close.”

With her condition worsening, her husband took her to the emergency room, only to be sent home again.

“I spent the next eight hours forcing every breath in and out,” McAfee said, “Forcing every breath.”

McAfee was eventually admitted to the hospital on March 28 where she was on oxygen and antibiotics for six days after receiving her positive test results.

“The nurses had just left and I was sitting there thinking, ‘I’m not gonna make it. I’m not gonna survive this,’” McAfee said.

As a wife and mother, she was forced to have tough conversations with her family.

“I said to myself at that point, ‘Your kids need you. They still need you. You can’t die from this. You’re gonna survive,'" McAfee said.

McAfee has since been released from the hospital and is recovering from COVID-19, acute bronchitis and pneumonia at home.

“I still get short of breath. I still can’t be up for very long before I have to sit back down,” McAfee said, “And I have this fear that the virus will come back.”

She hopes that sharing her story will encourage others to heed the stay-at-home warnings from expert health officials.

“Even if you don’t believe it, save Grandma and Grandpa and your brothers and sisters and your aunts and uncles,” McAfee said. “Save other people.”