Rhonda Withem’s family was ready to say goodbye after making the hard decision to take her off the ventilator that had kept her breathing while she battled Covid-19.
Doctors said Withem would probably only live for a few hours without the ventilator, but when they removed it, she seemed to “come alive,” daughter Nicole Brewer told CNN.
Brewer, her sister and brother-in-law were watching through a glass door on November 29th as the staff at Saline Memorial Hospital in Benton, Arkansas, took her off the machine.
“When they pulled everything off, she started waking up and saw my sister and [was] raising her hand to wave at us,” Brewer said.
Brewer said she could see Withem try to smile at them.
Withem, 62, had tested positive for Covid-19 on November 7 and quarantined at home.
At first, she just had a headache, coughing and congestion, Brewer said. But her condition worsened and she was hospitalized a week later and immediately put on the ventilator.
Withem didn’t respond to efforts to wean her from the machine, and after almost two weeks, her doctor said she would never be able to breathe on her own again, Brewer said.
Hospital staff let the family wait outside the room, so they would be nearby for what they expected to be her final moments.
Seeing Withem wave and smile gave the family hope, but they still didn’t know if she would make it.
Withem kept getting stronger and over the next few days, she was able to move out of the ICU into a regular Covid-19 room, her daughter Rebekah Goshien told CNN.
She was a little confused at first after being sedated for so long, but she was able to have FaceTime conversations with her daughters and grandchildren.
On December 10 — Goshien’s birthday — Goshien was able to see her mom and give her a big hug. Withem had been moved to a rehabilitation room to build up her strength after being bedridden for so long.
“I was the first one who got to go see her, so that was a good birthday present for me,” Goshien said.
Withem can now have one visitor per day, so the sisters take turns going to see her.
Goshien saw her on Friday and said she’d stood up five times during her therapy session, which was a big improvement from the day before.
She’s now pushing herself around in her wheelchair to increase her arm strength and playing bingo in therapy so she can practice moving her elbows and to build her endurance sitting up.
Goshien said her mom has also been doing word search puzzles and can use her phone.
Withem has lived in Benton her whole life, and the family credits the prayers from the community and her loved ones for her recovery.
“My family has seen a miracle … and it’s just all the glory and everything to God,” Goshien said.
The family has set up a GoFundMe account to help Withem pay her medical bills and other expenses.