After COVID-19

By Kathleen Seaman

Four recovered Wacoans share their stories

COVID-19 can vary widely among those infected with it. You might have headaches and body aches. You could have a cough, fever or difficulty breathing. You might lose your sense of taste or smell. Or you might not even know you have it. While some people have mild-to-no symptoms, others can have more severe, even life-threatening, reactions.

We spoke with a law enforcement officer, a cancer survivor, a business owner and a mom-to-be, who each contracted the virus in 2020. Now that they’ve recovered, they share their reflections on the pandemic, how the virus uniquely affected them, and how they’re doing after COVID.

Shawn Nixon

54 Years old
McLennan County Sheriff’s Office Captain & Chief Pilot

Shawn Nixon was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia and COVID-19 in July 2020. He spent a total of 23 days in the hospital, nine of them on a ventilator, and he lost 38 pounds. He spent 60 days at home recovering from the virus. He’s now entering his fourth month back at work, assigned to light duty. As a first responder Nixon was eligible to receive the vaccine and received both rounds in January.

“I don’t know what made me get it worse than anybody else. I was in really good shape. I’ve spent my whole life eating right, working out and doing all the right things. It really hit me hard. I still, to this day, get winded walking up the stairs or across the parking lot. I’ve never spent a night in the hospital in my life until this. I don’t get sick. To have something pop up that literally almost killed me, that is concerning. I think the only way we get rid of this virus is through a worldwide community effort. We’ve proven herd immunity [without the vaccine] is not going to save us. Because people who have already had it are getting it again. We need the vaccine, and we need a majority of the population to get vaccinated for it to be effective. In the between time people have got to wear a mask. They’ve got to wash their hands. They’ve got to social distance. People are walking around asymptomatic, unknowingly spreading it. How do you prevent that other than by doing the right thing?”

Ollie Gutierrez

84 Years old
Food Service Representative at Valley Mills H‑E‑B plus!

Ollie Gutierrez had stage 4 lymphoma in 2014, and even though she is currently cancer-free and wasn’t experiencing any symptoms, a family member recommended she get tested for the coronavirus. On Friday, October 9, she and her husband, Pete, were tested, and on Sunday, October 12, they both received a positive result. The couple quarantined for 20 days before returning to work.

Then on December 2, while at work, Gutierrez fell and fractured her hip, requiring surgery. At the hospital she tested positive for COVID again. While Gutierrez remained asymptomatic and has since tested negative, the procedures in place for the pandemic kept her separated from her family and significantly impacted her emotional state throughout her recovery.

In January, Gutierrez and her husband celebrated 67 years of marriage, and in February she’s celebrating 30 years with her beloved second family, H‑E‑B. Gutierrez was able to return home on New Year’s Day, and she plans to return to work when she’s fully recovered from surgery.

“[While at the hospital for hip surgery], the nurse said I tested positive for COVID. I remember saying, ‘No, it’s not true. I don’t have anything. I’m fine.’ Because I tested positive, they put me on the third floor with the people who had COVID. It was hard on me. I was in a lot of pain and needed a lot of attention. It was hard for them to tend to everybody. After a week they sent me to rehab at St. Catherine’s. [At that point] I tested negative, so thank the Lord for that, but my family could not see me. There was a window by my bed. I told my granddaughter, ‘Maybe y’all can come around by the window.’ That started my beautiful experience where I could see my family. They took pictures [through the window]. Every day my husband would come and wave to me. That brought joy to my heart. God gives us wisdom, and sometimes we have to make a way where there seems to be no way. And we did. I wasn’t sad anymore. When I got to come home, I cried and thanked my Lord I was home with my family. We didn’t have Thanksgiving because of the COVID. We didn’t have Christmas because of the surgery. But still, my family, we were content with God because we were all fine. There are a lot of other families that are not fine. I am 84 years old, and I’m thankful to God for all the blessings he’s given me.”

Amy Nichols

46 Years old
Dogtopia of Waco Co-Owner

Initially Amy Nichols had a fever and a violent cough that kept her from getting rest, but she hoped the medicine she received from visits to her doctor and an urgent care clinic would be effective. But on September 15, about a week after she first got sick, she felt dizzy and disoriented and couldn’t breathe, so she called for an ambulance. At the hospital her oxygen level was at 56, and she was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia. By that evening she was placed on a ventilator and remained on it for 16 days. After a recovery period in the hospital and a brief stint at a rehab facility to build back her strength, Nichols was able to go home on October 22 after 37 days. She’s currently back at work on a part-time basis.

“I got a secondary infection [while on the ventilator]. I started getting really high fevers, which made me come awake, so I had to be heavily medicated. When I came [off the ventilator], I didn’t know how long I had been under. It’s surreal. I struggled with that for a while. I just couldn’t get the timeline in my head right. I had to rely on my family to get an understanding of all that had happened. The first few months my biggest concern was to not get anything else, like the flu. Now it’s been a few months, and I still need to be extremely careful. Social distance. Wear my mask. People that have extreme lung infections, they can be prone to catching lung infections again. Overall I’m very lucky. I don’t have any damage to my lungs. They kind of expected I would. I’m still building up my strength. I still get out of breath easy. I struggle a little bit with concentration. I used to be a really big multitasker.”

Kiersten Hurst

29 Years old
Project Coordinator at Forterra Pipe & Precast

Kiersten Hurst tested positive for coronavirus on October 27 when she was four months pregnant. She and her husband, Chase, who also had the virus, experienced the full gamut of common symptoms, but when she had trouble breathing, she went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with pneumonia. With approval from her OB/GYN, she was treated with steroids and antibiotics. Fortunately she recovered by the end of her quarantine period on November 10 and returned to work on November 16. Her baby is due in April.

“On March 3, 2020, my husband and I lost our first baby, a stillbirth, at 30 weeks. After we got home [from the hospital], we secluded ourselves just because of what happened, and then the shutdown happened. Quarantine, for us, was a blessing. It gave us the opportunity to be by ourselves without having to come up with an excuse. At first we took [the pandemic] very seriously, but the longer it went on, the less we became concerned for ourselves. We were concerned for our family and those that are higher risk, but with me being pregnant [again], I was more concerned about getting the flu or gestational diabetes because I had it with my first. [My work said], ‘If you can work remote from home, work from home.’ My husband’s office never shut down. They had a second office they weren’t using, so I was pretty much by myself all day [working remotely in that office]. But [his coworkers and I would] order lunch and all be together. We didn’t think anything of it because we were staying away from everyone else but each other. Everybody in my husband’s area — five of them — they all had it. But you can get it anywhere. If you walk outside of the house and are around people, you’re putting yourself at some sort of a risk.”