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Family Advocates For Vaccine After Virus Battle

WARREN, Pa. — Ivy Whilton of Warren was in favor of COVID-19 vaccinations.

She got one.

Then, her brother went through the worst experience of his life and Whilton is even more of an advocate.

Wilton’s brother, Don Nelson of Warren, returned home this week after spending a month in hospitals for COVID-19.

“My brother was a healthy person, never even spent a day in a hospital,” she said.

Nelson had received his first COVID vaccine shot shortly before being diagnosed with COVID on May 28.

“The doctors don’t know if he contacted it just before he got his shot,” Whilton said.

“He quarantined at home for a week,” she said. “He got sicker and sicker, so his wife, Amy, took him to the hospital.”

He spent 16 days at Warren General Hospital.

“They sent him home … on a Wednesday,” Whilton said. “His wife and I worked pretty hard to get a nurse to come and see him on Friday. She sent him back to the hospital immediately.”

He was told he would be transferred to Hamot. “On Saturday morning, they called,” Whilton said. “The weather was not so good, they were going to take him by ambulance to Erie.”

Then, a helicopter flew in and took Nelson away.

“They flew him out to Hamot,” Whilton said. “He went into ICU out there.”

He was put in a medically-induced coma and put on a ventilator. “Tuesday, they told us it was a bad deal,” she said.

That was another five days.

Five days when the family couldn’t get any feedback from their loved one. Whilton was one of the lucky ones who actually got to see Nelson during that time. Then again, seeing him during that time was not all good.

“In Erie, you’re allowed two support people — not at the same time,” she said.

Amy Nelson and Whilton split that time.

“You watch her and you watch him on a ventilator and it hits you right in the heart,” Whilton said.

There are so many things that are still unknown, doctors were not able to help much with the anguish.

“Doctors say, ‘we don’t know,'” she said. “It’s terrible.”

At some point, the COVID-19 diagnosis changed.

“He started out with COVID,” Whilton said. “He got COVID pneumonia. From there, he ended with Afib, caused by COVID.”

Nelson will carry literal scars from his COVID experience.

“He has pulmonary fibrosis — scarring in the lungs — caused by COVID,” Whilton said. “They told him, with COVID, no matter what, you’re going to have some lung damage.”

The ordeal could leave Nelson having to take extraordinary steps for life. When exposed to allergens — whether at work or while mowing — Whilton said her brother will have to wear a mask at least.

“He has a ways to go,” she said. “In another month or two, maybe he’ll be able to back to work or choose another career” to get away from the dust in his current work environment.

Nelson was removed from the ventilator and brought out of the coma. When he was well enough, he was moved into a step-down room.

Doctors used medication to help bring his heart rhythm back to normal.

They looked at his heart to make sure he didn’t have any blood clots. Before he was released, doctors shocked Nelson’s heart to bring it back to a normal rhythm.

“It took one shock,” Whilton said.

Nelson is home now, facing months of rehabilitation. The ordeal is not one Whilton would wish on anyone.

“My brother said that was the worst experience of his life,” she said. “Two weeks of total isolation, not getting better.”

“It attacks you so badly,” she said. “He’s probably down 30, 35 pounds. It took all of his muscle tone. It took all of his strength.”

May was a very slow COVID month in the county. In June, state-wide mandates were removed. Warren County hasn’t seen a new case in over a week.

That the virus is not as prevalent as it once was has not convinced Whilton that people shouldn’t be vaccinated.

“I thought we were slowing down with this,” Whilton said. “When I heard he came down with this, I was shocked.”

Whilton was an early adopter of the vaccine. And she’s working on making sure others are on board.

“When they first came out and said they had a vaccine, I wasn’t sure about it,” she said. “You start watching TV, your elected officials are getting it, President Trump got it.”

“When it was offered to me, I was good with it,” she said. “I went down and got it. I took my mother with me.”

“My father does not have it,” Whilton said. “He says he’s not going to get it. That may change once I tell him about my brother.”

“My husband, once my brother was taken to Erie by helicopter, my husband said, ‘I’m going to get the shot. This is no joke,'” she said. “He got both his shots.”

“I shamed my other brother into getting a shot,” Whilton said.

“It’s walk-in, I don’t see why people don’t get it,” she said. “It’s walk in.”

“I didn’t want to see anybody else go through this,” she said. “People don’t realize how bad this is, until it hits you right in your immediate family. Then you’re watching his spouse in devastation because she can’t see him for two weeks and you’re talking to your brother and he’s deteriorating.”

“Until it hits you at home, you can’t know the anguish,” she said. “I just don’t think people get it until it hits them right where they live.”

“I didn’t.”

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