As Mary Dalianis reflects on the last five months, including the devastating loss of her mother, the COVID-19 survivor becomes overwhelmed with emotion.
“I’m not going to break down and cry, I promised myself, but I hate to have lost her that way due to COVID-19 because my mom was medically stable. She had her challenges, but she didn’t have to die that way,” said Dalianis, wiping tears from her eyes.
The family contracted COVID-19 in March, possibly from a local supermarket, though the exact point of exposure is unconfirmed.
Dalianis’ mother was about to be vaccinated when she became ill, though she herself was not yet eligible.
“Unfortunately she went into the hospital before then … my mom had a very high fever, she would lose her balance, she would fall so the ambulance was called. Then two days later, I went with the same high fever. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t talk. I had pneumonia in the beginning. But they later diagnosed me as well with COVID-19,” recalled Dalianis.
Her own symptoms worsened quickly and she was intubated in the ICU at Toronto Western Hospital.
“I believe I was getting maximum oxygen. I had sepsis, I had lung abscesses, necrotizing pneumonia, which is the worst kind of pneumonia you can get, a pulmonary embolism … And I had clots in my legs,” she said.
While attached to a ventilator, Dalianis was unaware her mother had died of the virus.
“My aunt came up and told me that my mom passed away and I was shocked. I don’t remember anything in ICU, only going under, that’s it,” she said.
The hardest part of the five-month long ordeal, said Dalianis, was not getting the opportunity to say goodbye to her mother.
“The hardest news I ever had to receive was the death of my mom. She was a very special lady, very special lady,” she said.
After being released from hospital, Dalianis spent weeks at Bridgepoint Health undergoing intensive rehabilitation to learn to walk and talk again.
Just last month, she was finally able to return home.
“They worked hard with me and I was able to walk within a month and a half. I gained back my mobility, my brain, walking, talking — doing everything I did before in life a little slower, but I’m much better now and getting stronger each day,” she said.
As Ontarians get ready to show proof of vaccination to enter certain businesses and public spaces, Dalianis said she is hopeful more people who have yet to get the vaccine will now access it.
She herself is double vaccinated.
“I went through a lot of heartache, pain and emotional trauma. Don’t bring this upon yourself. Get vaccinated.”
Dalianis credited Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, infectious diseases specialist at the University Health Network, with saving her life.
“He’s my hero because he fought along with my friends in ICU … they fought hard and through the grace of God, they saved me,” she said.
“I remember the first time I laid eyes on her, I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness,’ what she had gone through being so sick in the intensive care unit, how serious the complications were with respect to her COVID pneumonia, the clots that she endured afterwards, the sepsis and the serious life-threatening organ dysfunction that she went through, and she looked like she should have really been left for dead,” recalled Sharkawy.
He said he was amazed when suddenly one day “she just came to life.”
“She literally started talking and started smiling and started interacting and engaging,” he said, adding, “this is the reason we practice medicine, is to be able to see people emerge from the depths of despair and medical distress and to rise above it and to show us the resilience and strength and really the grace and humility that it takes to get through these difficulties.”
Sharkawy said he hopes people hear Dalianis’ message and heed the warning.
“COVID-19 isn’t going away. The pandemic might end very soon, hopefully, but the disease isn’t going away entirely,” Sharkawy said.
“We’ve got to do whatever we can to continue to spread a message that’s going to keep people safe, prevent them from being unnecessarily exposed, or if they’re exposed, immunized and vaccinated so that they can defend themselves and keep themselves and the rest of their communities healthy.”