Russellville teacher back home after battling Covid-19 for 234 days in the hospital

Linda Holcomb is now the patient with the longest stay at Helen Keller Hospital and the longest surviving COVID patient.

Posted: Sep 20, 2021 7:06 PM
Updated: Sep 24, 2021 2:31 PM

A local teacher is now back at home after being hospitalized with Covid-19 for 234 days!

"I've been told I've broken every record in Keller there's ever been," Linda Holcomb said.

She is now known as the patient with the longest stay at Helen Keller Hospital and the longest surviving Covid-19 patient.

"On Monday, I was moving putting stuff up in my house. Tuesday, I went to school and had meetings all day. Wednesday, I get up sick as a dog," Linda recalled.

She tested positive for Covid-19 on Jan. 20. She believes she got it from an asymptomatic child at her school. Less than a week later, her oxygen levels dropped and she went to the hospital. Nine days after testing positive, Linda had to be put on a ventilator.

"33 years was not enough. I had to have her," Torey Behel told her mother before she was intubated.

Linda expected to be able to recover quickly.

"I thought maybe a week or two, and then they'd wake me back up," Linda said.

But, she was sedated for more than two months.

"I can remember hearing my girls talk and laugh some. I can remember the sensation of somebody touching me, but there was no way that I could respond to what they did. A lot of it was just dreams," Linda explained.

Doctors had switched her to a trach after 42 days. But, the fight was far from over as Linda's lung collapsed.

"You just live in the day-to-day survival mode. Changes were very slow because anything with her was very dramatic and traumatic," Behel said.

At that point, Linda said everything was in God's hands.

"I knew I was fighting as hard as I could fight. I knew my girls were fighting for me. I knew our community was behind us. We're told do not be afraid. I knew if I made it great, but I knew even if I didn't make it everything was going to be OK," Linda said.

Linda was eventually able to be taken off sedation, but it still took weeks for her to reorient herself.

"It's hard to see your kids upset and telling you fight, fight fight. You got to fight this," Linda said.

When she finally came to, Linda would ask what day it was.

"The answer was always Friday," she recalled.

It wasn't until she looked outside the window that she noticed how much time had truly gone by.

"The trees had leaves on them. I sat here thinking, 'It's February. Trees don't have leaves in February,'" Linda said.

After being hospitalized for more than 160 days, Linda was transferred to a long-term care facility. Employees cheered her on in the hallways as she moved on to further recover.

However, a medical emergency sent her back to the ICU for a few days before going back to a rehab facility, where six days a week for four hours a day Linda had to relearn everything from walking to eating. A frustrating process caused by the loss of muscle mass during her hospital stay.

"There's been good days and there have been bad days. You get caught up in that and think I'm never going to get better. It didn't take long for me to think, you're a whole lot better than what you were," Linda said.

It's a difficult journey that continues to this day. Doctors told her it takes three days to regain the strength she lost for every day in bed. That means it could be another year and a half before she really gets all her strength back.

"It hasn't been easy it's probably one of the hardest things I've ever done. I know I want to be able to be independent again," Linda said.

But, Linda takes it one step at a time.

On Friday, she was able to take her first step back home after nine months in the hospital. Students, staff and members of the community lined up the streets to welcome her back. It's been an unimaginable experience that's left her grateful for life.

"I am thankful to be here. Thankful, there were people praying for me and God's mercy," Linda said.

She now asks for everyone to do their part to end this pandemic.

"It's not a death sentence to everybody, but don't just ignore doing your part to make it better," Linda said.

"If you don't do it for you, do it for your kids. My kids shouldn't have had to seen me go through this. My grandkids shouldn't have to. My sisters. I know people are scared of the shot, but we're never going to get rid of it unless people take precautions."

Linda is hopeful to be able to return as a teacher, but first wants to be able to visit the beach with her family once she's up and running.

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