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COVID Survivor Encourages Others to Get Vaccinated

COVID Survivor Encourages Others to Get Vaccinated

Last summer, on July 21, Rhonda Earhart arrived at North Oaks Medical Center struggling to breathe. Diagnosed with COVID-19, she was admitted and spent the next 53 days in the hospital receiving care in the fight of her life.

Nearly 8 months later, she’s breathing easier after receiving her COVID vaccine along with her husband and son, Trey and Josh Earhart, at North Oaks Immunization Clinic.

The family are among 1,200 individuals who took advantage of newly expanded eligibility criteria in Louisiana (ages 16-64 with underlying medical conditions) to get vaccinated at North Oaks Immunization Clinic’s mass vaccination event, March 11-12. They received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose COVID vaccine.

Sitting in the waiting room to be monitored for reactions after getting their shots, they expressed relief to now have the vaccine’s protection in helping them fight off the virus should they ever be exposed again. Of the process, Rhonda and Trey commended North Oaks for a smooth and quick experience.

“We scheduled our appointments online, and today we were in and out. Everyone was very professional, helpful, pleasant and easy to talk to,” Trey notes.

The Earharts are hopeful for brighter days ahead. Josh, an athlete with Special Olympics Louisiana, is looking forward to the day masking is no longer required, and he is able to compete more routinely as a basketball player. Hearing-impaired, he relies on lip reading to help him communicate with others, which masks make impossible. For now, he’s set his sights on the approaching weekend. He’ll be competing for the first time in a year in a basketball tournament in Baton Rouge.

Trey, who is a national sales manager with Smitty’s Supply in Roseland, is most excited about regaining an increasing sense of normalcy.

“I can’t wait to interact with my children and grandchildren more freely and hopefully be able to be at the hospital when our grandson is born in June,” adds Rhonda. She was hospitalized when her granddaughter Charlie was born last summer.

The week before she became sick, Rhonda and Trey had been actively working on remodeling their home, and the family had been hiking. While Josh was spared, Trey also contracted the virus, but only experienced mild symptoms.

Through it all, Trey points to North Oaks Pulmonologist Arvind Yertha, MD, as the family’s saving grace.

“He was a lifesaver. He literally saw our family through some of our darkest days. He called me twice each day to give me updates on Rhonda. I appreciated that he was always honest and never sugar-coated anything.”

Rhonda interjects, “If you are ever having an anxiety attack, I can tell you that you want Dr. Yertha to talk you through it. He has the most calming voice.”

Rhonda, who works in retail, required ventilator assistance for a total of 12 days while at North Oaks Medical Center.

Trey cherishes the day he was able to hold his wife’s hand for the first time after bringing her to the hospital.

“I’ll never forget the day. It was August 15 … the day that I came off the vent and was declared COVID-negative,” Rhonda notes.

From North Oaks Medical Center, Rhonda, weak and deconditioned, was transferred to Post-Acute Medical Specialty Hospital of Hammond to continue her recovery. Dr. Yertha continued to visit her and follow her care along the way, offering words of encouragement and perspective on how far she had come.

Once she was strong enough, she was admitted to North Oaks Rehabilitation Hospital, where she participated in more than 3 hours of occupational and physical therapy daily to regain her mobility and strength.

She “graduated” from North Oaks Rehabilitation Hospital on Sept. 11, and has been continuing to recover at home from the mental and physical toll of the virus.

Along every step of her journey, Rhonda came to regard her physicians, nurses, therapists, nursing assistants and other health care providers as family. “They were fantastic. They were with me every step of the way … hugging me, talking to me and keeping me company … encouraging me.”

“Today, I’m still working to improve my lung capacity and rebuild my muscle strength. I continue to have joint aches, but my PVCs (extra heartbeats) are finally gone,” she explains. “I’m getting better every day, but I’m still not back to 100%.”

To put her gains in perspective, Rhonda shares that she was so weak at one point during her hospitalization that her cell phone became too heavy to lift. Now, she is thankful to have the strength to hold her 20 lb. granddaughter Charlie with confidence. “There was a time when I could hold her, but I didn’t have the strength to hand her off to her mom,” she comments.

“I barely survived the first time. I’m truly blessed to be alive. I don’t know that I would make it if I came down with the virus again without the immunity gained from this vaccine,” Rhonda asserts. “If telling my story helps more people choose to get vaccinated, then sharing it is worth it to me.”

The immunization clinic is located on the North Oaks Medical Center campus in Hammond. Those with appointments should enter the campus via Medical Arts Plaza Drive from Highway 51 Business/Veterans Boulevard, use Parking Lot C and follow the blue “IMM” signs to the Immunization Clinic entrance.

Based on vaccine supply, one or more of the following vaccines may be available for scheduling through the North Oaks Immunization Clinic: Johnson & Johnson (Janssen), Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech. Appointments may be scheduled here or by calling (985) 230-SHOT [7468].