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Nurse, transplant patient diagnosed with COVID-19: “I felt car sick”

IU Health Arnett Hospital

Nurse, transplant patient diagnosed with COVID-19: “I felt car sick”

She had a new lease on life after her transplant so a year later she followed her passion serving others. Then, when she returned home Cathy Woodard received the test results – she had COVID-19.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

She celebrated her birthday on April 2nd. Cathy Woodard didn’t even remove her facemask to blow out the candles on her cake decorated in red, white, and blue for her favorite Chicago Cubs.

For multiple days, Woodard has remained quarantined in her home, spending her days in her bedroom, isolated from her husband, Ross. Before that she was hospitalized at IU Health Arnett for six days.

As a nurse, Woodard wants others to know about the seriousness of COVID-19. She wants others to know there is reason to fear, but there is also reason to hope.

Her story began in July of 2018 when she was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure. She began dialysis in December 2018 – her body was on a fast track toward renal failure. On Feb. 22, 2019, under the care of IU Health Dr. William Goggins. Woodward received a kidney transplant. Her donor was a fellow nurse Tina Scott.

Two co-workers became lifelong “kidney buddies,” as Woodard returned to her life before renal failure. She continued with regular check ups and returned to good health. A month ago she was running regularly and training for a marathon.

Part of her life before kidney failure included annual mission trips to Ghana, West Africa. She has taken seven and sat out last year to give her body time to fully recover.

This year, her church – Dayton United Methodist in Dayton, Ind. – was again preparing their team to travel to Ghana. Woodard wanted to return. One of the first contacts she made was to her IU Health nephrologist Dr. Tim Taber.

“I asked him if I could go. He made sure I knew what not to eat and drink and to take care of myself,” said Woodard. Since she had made the trip before, she was more prepared than a first-time traveler.

On March 5, Woodard joined the mission team traveling the nearly 6,000 miles to the land once known as the “Gold Coast.” Twelve days later she wrote: “For the last 10 days we have called the little town of Shama ‘home.’ In the last 10 days we have dedicated six clean water wells, visited a local orphanage, played with and taught nearly 350 children, watched 60 some children raise their hand and accept Jesus, saw numerous people in the medical clinics, and grew deeper in our own faith.

Now we are headed toward Accra to get ready and catch our flight home. We understand that a lot has changed while we have been gone. We have been safe here. We should arrive at JFK tomorrow morning.”

Woodard had been safe throughout the trip but she hadn’t been well. Her first symptoms started during the morning drive to a local village. She began to feel nauseous.

“I felt car sick but I don’t usually get car sick,” said Woodard. “I started to have a decreased appetite and wasn’t eating much at breakfast or dinner. Then the last few days of the trip she and her roommate began having a slight cough. They attributed it to the heat, sun, poor air quality and smoke and dirt they were exposed to in the villages. Finally on the last day of the trip Woodard, who regularly runs a mile with little effort, could barely walk up the stairs.

“When we arrived back in Indy, I attempted to pick up my luggage and put it on my cart and I could barely lift the two pieces. I was short of breath and had to sit down,” said Woodard. When she got off the bus at her church, she walked straight to her car, called her doctor’s office and was directed to go to ER.

“I was taken to a room and the nurse started on blood work and swabs. I was tested on March 18 and was told it would be five to seven days for results,” said Woodard. But on March 19 she received the confirmation she feared – she tested positive for COVID-19.

She was told she had an abnormally low number of white blood cells causing her to be at a higher risk of infection. Her CT scan revealed abnormalities consistent with COVID-19. She spent the next six days hospitalized at IU Health Arnett where she received IV antibiotics, inhaler treatments and doses of anti-malarial medication. She was already taking a similar medication on her trip. After her release she began quarantine at home and continues virtual visits with her primary physician. She’s been advised to remain in quarantine until told otherwise and to stay hydrated and get plenty of rest.

She’s also been advised that she can continue to shed the virus and potentially pass it along to others who have compromised immune systems.

“No one knows if I can contract the virus more than once. We can only speculate that we can and it could be worse the second time around,” said Woodard. She says it is like nothing she has seen before in her lifetime as a healthcare professional.

“Instead of raising your white blood cell count to help fight it off, it lowers it. Your body isn’t able to fight it off quickly and it can be very dangerous especially for those who have a compromised immune system. If I had gone one more day without treatment, things could have been differently for me.”

The good news is she feels like she is on the mend. In addition to cake, she enjoyed a steak dinner at home and is getting her appetite back.

“Each day the symptoms are getting better,” said Woodard. “There was a day I woke up and I could breathe better. Currently I have a cough and some shortness of breath during conversation and I continue to wear a mask but I feel like God is getting me through it.”

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