Posted on June 24, 2022
Breathing Easier: Hannah Blumka Makes a Remarkable COVID-19 Recovery
Last December, 17-year-old Hannah Blumka arrived at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital fighting for her life.
Before contracting COVID-19, Hannah was a healthy, lively teenage girl. The infection quickly and unexpectedly took a toll on every system in her body. Within a day of arrival at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, she was placed on life-support – specifically, ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), a machine that pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood while allowing the heart and lungs to rest.
Hannah’s family was told survival was unlikely; they prepared for the worst as she continued on ECMO for 41 days.
“They told me she was a 17-year-old with 75-year-old lungs, said Tina Blumka, Hannah’s mom. “I didn’t get to hold her for 44 days.”
But Hannah put up a fight. After battling COVID-19 for more than two months, she stabilized enough to be transported for much-needed rehabilitation. She arrived for her recovery at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital for pediatric inpatient rehabilitation care in early March.
Getting Her Voice Back
The pulmonary team at Helen DeVos Children’s hospital, along with the Mary Free Bed Kids respiratory therapy and speech-language pathology teams, collaborated on her recovery plan. An important part of her recovery was her respiratory therapy and giving her more room to breathe. That process involved moving her from a larger cuff tracheotomy to a smaller speaking valve that would allow her to speak.
“The speaking valve itself restores sensation to your upper throat. So it helps with swallowing. It helps with ventilator weening too. It was a huge step in that process,” said Kate Armstrong, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation speech-language pathologist. “She could start using her verbal communication, and that gave Hannah a lot more of her power back, which is important for a teenage girl to have her voice during a medical event like this.”
Armed with her voice and determination, Hannah quickly started to make significant strides in all areas.
“Being able to have a patient work simultaneously on their respiratory goals, like vent weening and eventually decannulation, while also working on their functional goals, is incredibly helpful for a patient’s overall functional status,” explained Dr. Marianne Mousigian, Mary Free Bed physician.
Hannah got back on her feet – achieving major milestones like standing, walking and showing major improvements with speech and swallowing. Throughout her therapy, she set a personal goal to keep up with her schoolwork and graduate with her class. She also reached some personal milestones during her stay at Mary Free Bed – among them, she celebrated her 18th birthday.
What Lies Ahead
“It was fun!” she said, “I had a nurse come in my room at 4:30 in the morning and put ‘Happy Birthday’ signs in my room,” said Hannah with a chuckle. “The people here really care, and it shows.”
Hannah has much to smile about. Her vibrant, bubbly personality lights up the room as she continues outpatient therapy on her road to recovery. She graduated from Mary Free Bed in May. And, 164 days after being admitted to the hospital, she graduated from high school – on time, with her classmates at Buchanan High School.