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She was the “pioneer patient.” One of the first COVID-19 patients at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, and the first one who was placed on a ventilator due to the virus.

At the time she was admitted, via the special COVID-19 entrance at the hospital’s emergency department in March 2020, Cynthia “Cindy” Tankersley’s husband, Dean, said he was told his 60-year-old wife was in dire shape.

“The first time that they intubated her, they told me that she had about 24 hours to live if they didn’t do that. Then they told me she had a 50/50 shot. At that point, I was looking at it as 50/50 being a lot better than 24 hours.”

“She was the first patient to be placed on a ventilator back in March. Her lungs had become so inflamed at that point, she wasn’t able to be supported with the regular treatments,” Dr. Anil Patel, intensive care physician said. “So, she ended up on a ventilator, paralyzed, in a medically-induced coma.”

Now, a year after her discharge, Cindy returned to Saint Alphonsus to thank her care team. It was an emotional reunion for the former patient and hospital colleagues, as every member of her team, including a night nurse who came in on her day off, gathered around to marvel at the recovery Cindy has made.

“I wanted to come back to thank everyone for all the efforts they had to go through to get me through it and survive to go home to friends and family,” Cindy said.

Cindy said she remembers little about her 21-day stay in the hospital, including 10 days on a ventilator in the hospital’s COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit. Her return visit included a stop in front of the room that was home for her stay. She has looked back at the texts and notes Dean exchanged with the doctors and nurses during her hospitalization, as she tries to fill in the blanks.

Through it all, both Cindy and Dean say the support, training, skill and compassion of the Saint Alphonsus team made all the difference.

“It’s gratitude, it’s the devotion that everyone gave to helping me — the bravery, and the strength that it took to do some of the stuff they did back then, not knowing how it was going to affect them,” she said. “They [Saint Alphonsus’ staff] were my family, because they gave me that support and compassion. It’s a sad virus because if you get it like I did, you’ll die by yourself without family or friends around. To have a family here supporting you is huge and helped a whole lot.”

“When she got here, we didn’t know a lot about COVID,” Dean said. “The communication was fantastic. I was talking with doctors and nurses at least a couple of times a day, getting status updates and understanding what they were looking for and why that was important.”

Besides the visit, Cindy and Dean brought lunch for the ICU and CICU units. And they presented colleagues, including ICU Nurse Manager Kyli Jo Sandy, with an oversized card containing thoughts and appreciation from the Tankersley’s family and friends around the country and the world. Their messages of thanks brought many Saint Alphonsus colleagues to tears.

“It’s very heartwarming. It means a lot to us, to everyone who cared for her,” Dr. Patel said. “Each patient requires careful monitoring, especially Cynthia. We needed to make sure her body wasn’t going to suffer any injury from the paralysis. It required a huge effort. Nurses were in there constantly, throughout the day. We are so grateful she came back today, it’s really good to see a success story, because so many people have not been as lucky as Cynthia.”

“Boise is very lucky to have this kind of team and this kind of skill available in the Treasure Valley. This isn’t something that came with a script; they had to try things and experiment with things. But their ability to understand this and explain it to me was very much appreciated,” Dean Tankersley added.

Looking back on her experience, Cindy says she at first felt some guilt as a COVID survivor: “It started out as a kind of a sadness, it felt weird that I survived when others didn’t. But I think that’s part of recovery from COVID. Be thankful and live every day to the fullest and thank everyone for their efforts to bring me back.”

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