Marta Diaz smiles, describing her daughter Tatiana as a joyful child, but tears fill her eyes at the same time. Tatiana Diaz, 16, was set to come home to Union City this week after spending nearly three months in the hospital recovering from the H1N1 virus (swine flu).
“I will never forget that day,” said Marta Diaz last week, recounting when Tatiana fell ill. “It was 7:13 in the morning.”
That day, Tatiana experienced a ferocious asthma attack. Initially thinking her kids were simply horsing around as usual, Diaz walked into the bedroom and saw her daughter shaking and hanging from the bunk bed.
“I love you; don’t worry,” Tatiana said to her mother. “I’m speaking with God.”
Then she dropped to the floor.
Tatiana was rushed to Christ Hospital in Jersey City, then to St. Joseph’s in Paterson for critical care.
Diaz was astonished when she walked into a hospital room and found her daughter covered in tubes. Within 24 hours, Tatiana tested positive for the H1N1 virus. Doctors determined that the asthma attack had been a result of complications.
“This is a new birth, a new beginning.” – Marta Diaz, mother
Tatiana careened through a roller coaster of antibiotics as doctors tried to find the ones that worked. An uncle and a neighbor helped care for Tatiana’s three brothers at home while her mother stayed bedside in the hospital.
Tatiana was induced into a coma and underwent a tracheotomy. People around the world prayed for her – from her extended family in El Salvador to her 10th grade classmates at Union City High School. She was also mentioned on a local AM Christian radio program.
When she was finally admitted to PSE&G Specialized Children’s Hospital in New Brunswick for rehabilitation, doctors estimated it could take her several months to recover through rounds of physical, occupational, respiratory, and speech therapy. “She couldn’t speak or eat when she came,” said Dr. Michele Fantasia, the psychiatrist who treated Tatiana, last week. “There was a great deal of stress and psychological issues.”
Medicine and miracles
Although the initial prognosis was dire, Tatiana recovered in half of the estimated time. She is lively and well, walking and talking with the concerns of a typical teenager. A calendar near her bedside that was used as a therapy aid at the hospital tracked the amazing progress of the past six weeks of rehabilitation.
In the beginning of her recovery, Tatiana said, the scariest thing for her was not being heard.
“I would be talking, but they couldn’t hear me,” Tatiana said as she reviewed the calendar entries from days past. “It would come out like a whisper.” Her entries quickly progressed from the simply extraordinary – such as “I walked” and “I can talk” – to the extraordinarily teen, “I’m able to use laptop” and “Went to mall.” (As part of a recreation therapy trip.)
There’s even an extra special entry that marks “Learned to swim” which is not only a therapy achievement for her, but also a lifetime first.
Tatiana is most excited about coming home to her own bed, though she admits it was nice being able to simply press a button to have her meals delivered to her room. Since she was able to keep up with classwork during her time in the hospital, she planned to return to school shortly after her reunion at home.
At school, she is a member of the Key Club, which raises money for children and visits them in hospitals. Interestingly, she was on the other side as a patient, as Seton Hall University’s Key Club visited her in the hospital.
She said she is now interested in a career in the health services industry, perhaps in rehabilitation.
In preparation for her daughter’s return, Marta Diaz painted the apartment. The walls are bright white, topped with a sky blue ceiling, evidence of the heavenly miracle that has taken place in their lives. Though it was difficult to watch her daughter undergo this ordeal, she is encouraged by the possibility of the future.
“This is a new birth, a new beginning,” said Marta Diaz.
Tatiana had not had the swine flu vaccine this year, but now will have to get one each year for the rest of her life, her doctor said.
Although they were hard to come by at the beginning of winter, vaccinations against the swine flu are available at various local clinics.
New Jersey’s H1N1 Information Hotline is 1-866-321-9571. Live operators are available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. To find a local flu shot clinic, call the number or check the web at http://web.doh.state.nj.us/apps2/flu/fluschedules.aspx.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.