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New London teen recovers from COVID-19 after time in ICU

Angelly Suriel of New London was at work two weeks ago when she got a call from her 13-year-old son, Geriel, who said he was feeling sick.

For the next few days he had a range of symptoms — headache, fatigue, fever, diarrhea and vomiting. Suriel called her son’s pediatrician, who told her to give him Tylenol, not ibuprofen. Still, his fever, which reached 104.9 degrees at one point, wouldn’t go down, she said. She again called his pediatrician, who prescribed him antibiotics for pneumonia.

The ensuing days and weeks were any parent’s nightmare.

Her son, Suriel later found out, tested positive COVID-19. After spending five days in the hospital, including some time in the intensive care unit, he is now recovering at home.

While Gov. Ned Lamont, who has warned that April will be a bad month for the disease, continues to announce increasing coronavirus cases and deaths related to the disease, he and health officials have said all along that the vast majority of those who contract the disease recover.

Suriel, 31, of New London, said her son, who is shy and did not want to be interviewed for this article, is an example of that.

Recoveries are hard to track

Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said at a news conference last week that the state was trying to find a way to gather information on how many Connecticut residents have recovered from the disease. But, he said, that data would have to be tracked manually because hospitals don’t report that and many people recover at home.

Suriel said after several calls she was able to get her son tested for COVID-19 at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. Due to testing availability, health officials have advised people only to get tested if they have severe symptoms such as a high fever and shortness of breath.

Geriel got tested on March 27. Suriel said she was told it could take 7 days to get his test results back.

The next night, he starting having difficulty breathing. Suriel took him to L+M twice. On the second visit, a doctor ordered a chest X-ray, which showed bad inflammation in his lungs, his mother said.

L+M was not admitting children at that time, so he was transported by ambulance to Yale New Haven Hospital, where he spent five days, some of that time in the ICU.

“I cry for everything. I’m so sensitive, but I tried to be strong because I didn’t want him to see me like that,” Suriel said. “I didn’t want to cry in front of him.”

But on her son’s second day in the ICU, she broke down.

“He wasn’t getting any better yet. He was breathing hard. He wasn’t eating. He looked pale. It was awful looking at my child like that in that bed,” Suriel said, her voice breaking. “It was crazy. I broke into tears.”

The next day, Geriel’s health slowly started to improve. He relied on less and less oxygen and eventually was able to breathe on his own. He started eating regular food, and once he was able to drink on his own and no longer needed IV fluids, he was discharged. He got home on April 3.

Suriel said she still hasn’t received the results from the coronavirus test given to her son at L+M on March 27, but he was tested when he arrived at Yale New Haven, and those results came back in less than 24 hours and showed he had COVID-19.

Suriel, who was by her son’s side throughout his time in the hospital, she she recently lost her sense of smell and taste, which a recent study from King’s College London found can be linked to the disease. She, her boyfriend and Geriel are quarantining for two weeks in her three-bedroom apartment in New London. She said her good friend has been dropping off groceries for them.

Her boyfriend’s mother is taking care of her 2 1/2-year-old son and 1 1/2-year-old son, who has asthma and uses a nebulizer, and her 8-year-old is with his father, so they don’t come into contact with their brother, she said.

Suriel, who is a patient care assistant at L+M, said she was told she’d likely not be able to return to work for at least one month. One of her friends at work started a GoFundMe page to help her financially since she’ll be out of work for some time.

She's not sure how her son could have contracted the virus. She said he could have gotten it at school before schools in the state shut down. Otherwise, he's only been to her house and her sister's house. She said she took extra precautions when at work — putting her clothes in a plastic bag and changing before coming home and leaving different shoes outside the house to change into.

"I want people to know that they need to take this seriously. People are still out there, not paying attention. They go to the store three times a week. If you don't have to go outside, stay home with your family. Take care of your family. I could've never imagined that this would happen to me," Suriel said.

She advised those who think they or a loved one have the virus to advocate for yourself or on their behalf to get tested. She said that's what she had to do for her son.

"You know your child. You know yourself. You know when you don't feel good. You know when your child doesn't feel good more than anybody else," she said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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