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Silver Cross Hospital’s first COVID-positive patient discharged

4/29/2020, 8:46 p.m.
Halina Zabinski remembers very little of her 5-week stay at Silver Cross Hospital that began in mid-March, when she arrived ...
Halina Zabinski is wheeled out of Silver Cross Hospital amid tears, cheers and well wishes from hospital staff. Zabinski was the hospital's first COVID-positive inpatient and recently left Silver Cross for home after a five-week stay.

Halina Zabinski remembers very little of her 5-week stay at Silver Cross Hospital that began in mid-March, when she arrived in the hospital’s emergency department with dangerously low oxygen levels.

But the grateful 59-year-old Lemont woman will never forget the emotional sendoff she received April 24 as hospital staff cheered her on to continue her miraculous recovery from COVID-19 at home, hospital officials said..

As the hospital’s first COVID-19 inpatient, Zabinski initially was given a less than 1 percent chance of survival because of her critical condition at admission.

Staff members at Silver Cross Hospital cheer on Halina Zabinski as she was released from the hospital after a five-week stay. She was the hospital's first COVID-19 patient.

Staff members at Silver Cross Hospital cheer on Halina Zabinski as she was released from the hospital after a five-week stay. She was the hospital's first COVID-19 patient.

“I have no recollection whatsoever because my oxygen levels were so low,” Zabinski said. Within 15 minutes of her arrival at the hospital’s emergency department, she was placed on a ventilator and taken to the hospital’s intensive care unit. She spent the next several weeks receiving around-the-clock care from highly skilled nurses, therapists and physicians all while battling devastating COVID-19 complications that included kidney failure, heart muscle damage, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and blood clots.

"Halina was terribly, critically ill," said Dr. Kristopher McDonough, board-certified pulmonologist and critical care specialist, who cared for Zabinski during a large part of her ICU stay. “She was very hard to ventilate and oxygenate. She developed all the complications.”

While intensive care staff are trained to care for patients with grave complications, the combination of complications that Zabinski and other critically ill COVID-19 patients exhibit is new territory for caregivers at hospitals across the country and often requires an innovative approach to managing their care, according to McDonough.

“Literally everything we have to do for these patients has had to be adapted,” he added.

One treatment that proved particularly effective for Zabinski is called “proning,” which involves putting the patient on a special hospital bed that allows them to lie face down and improves their breathing.

“Most patients that require this type of care are proned for 16 hours a day,” he said. “Halina needed nearly 24 hours a day for several days.”

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Halina gets big send-off from Silver Cross Hospital

Halina Zabinsky received cheers from the staff of Silver Cross Hospital when she was released from the hospital this week. She was the first COVID-19 patient at Silver Cross Hospital five weeks ago.

Halina Zabinsky received cheers from the staff of Silver Cross Hospital when she was released from the hospital this week. She was the first COVID-19 patient at Silver Cross Hospital five weeks ago.

That proved challenging because she also required renal replacement therapy to treat her failing kidneys. But her care team once again figured out a safe, effective way to deliver both.

“It took a lot of creativity and ingenuity,” McDonough added. “It’s a really big win. Her entire care team of nurses and therapists were amazing. Her nurses didn’t leave her room; it was truly commendable.”

Josie Kee , an intensive care nurse at Silver Cross, provided one-to-one care for Zabinski during her first two weeks at Silver Cross. "She was definitely one of the sickest patients I’ve ever had," Kee recalled. "I really didn’t think she was going to make it."

But Kee said she and other members of Zabinski’s care team never gave up hope. Not only did they provide 24/7 care, they communicated regularly with Zabinski’s husband (who also spent several days at Silver Cross battling COVID-19 on the hospital’s 6th floor) and her daughter Katie, a medical student. Though they couldn’t be together, Kee coordinated updates via cell phone and FaceTime.