When Jayda Leiataua arrived for her grandfather’s birthday in California in June of 2021, she felt the chills during a warm summer day but did not think much about it. Later in the evening she had spent the night celebrating with family; any symptoms of an illness were easily numbed by the wines, spirits, and drinks that night. The next day, while on a plane ride back to Seattle, she was shivering throughout the entire flight. By the time it had landed, she could not walk and had requested wheelchair assistance. After arriving home, she turned off her phone and communication with her family. For the next three days, Jayda confined herself to her room, self-soothing and waiting out her illness. She treated it like any common cold and thought that with rest it would go away on its own. “I was coughing up a storm that I couldn’t get rid of” she recalls. “As I got up to go to the bathroom, which was right across my bed, I found myself constantly gasping for air.”
It was on the fourth day that Jayda’s sister walked in to her room (they lived together) and noticed that Jayda did not look well at all; she called the paramedics. When they arrived and began checking her vitals, they were in absolute shock at how dangerously low her oxygen levels were. Jayda was rushed to the hospital and was diagnosed with COVID-19. “It never crossed my mind that it might be COVID” she remembers, “I never thought I would catch it. The grace of God must have been with my sister to check on me that day. The ER doctor said that if I had waited another day, I would not have made it.”
Jayda was admitted into the intensive care unit and immediately placed on a ventilator. She woke up the next day with a tube down her throat, unsure of where she was and what had happened. “My mouth was really dry. It was the most uncomfortable feeling ever and I remember I kept begging the nurse for water” she said, “but what got me the most was that as I slowly began to wake up, I realized I was in there fighting for my life and none of my loved ones were around.” Her situation reflected the experiences of many others during the height of the pandemic, when family members were unable to care for their loved ones in the hospital because of all of the restrictions and safety precautions.
Jayda was on the ventilator for three days, and for the next few weeks Jayda was given a CPAP machine to help open up her lungs. She was suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome, one of the symptoms of severe COVID, when the lungs are unable to work on their own to provide the body’s organs with enough oxygen. The ordeal left her lethargic, unable to walk, and unable to do anything else on her own. She recalled waiting hours to get cleaned after having an accident on her bed, the hospital had reached its capacity because they were overwhelmed with COVID patients. ” It was very uncomfortable, especially being a transgender woman.” she reflected. “I felt at times that there were caregivers who were not aware of women like me, so I don’t know what was going on in their minds. There was one nurse, I will never forget her, who was so comforting. She knew exactly the kind of treatment that made me feel at ease. At the same time, I thought ‘what could I have done in my situation?’, I was just too weak to care for myself.”
Around the same time, Jayda’s friend Sancho was admitted for COVID treatment in Valley Medical, the same hospital where Jayda was hospitalized. They would exchange words of faith and encouragement to each other through texts, but never got to see one another as both were in a fight for their lives in separate rooms. “Sancho never made it out of the hospital” Jayda said, holding back tears “it was a painful pill to swallow knowing that we both were in there battling together and she didn’t survive. She was just too ill, but it made me fight even more to get through this for her.”
Jayda spent an entire month and three days in the hospital. The last few days she spent there were with a physical therapist to learn how to walk again and regain her physical strength. After being discharged, she was given an oxygen tank because her lungs were not strong enough on their own just yet. Even after a year of surviving COVID, Jayda has lingering effects, “walking up the stairs. . . feels like I just ran a marathon, so I still use the tank from time to time.” She believes one of the reasons why her health took a bad decline when she was fighting COVID was because she was unvaccinated at the time.
“Get vaccinated!” Jayda said with a stern voice, “And if you do not believe in the vaccine, just follow state guidelines and mask up. Some people are stubborn and do not believe in the virus. But you will know it is real once it happens to you. I did not believe I would catch it, but I almost died. I get emotional thinking about the harrowing ordeal I went through. The people that I held grudges against, those who did me wrong, I would never wish it on anyone, not even my worst enemy. COVID-19 is no joke. I thank God every day for giving me the strength to fight so I could live to tell you my story. I’m hoping this will be a cautionary tale to others.”