Recovered COVID-19 Patient In Hays County Is 'Happy To Be Alive,' Urges People To Watch For Symptoms

May 1, 2020

Tracey Sengele, 44, has asthma, so she didn't think it was all that unusual when she started feeling bad and having breathing problems during the second week of March.

She didn't realize at the time that she was one of Hays County's first cases of COVID-19.

After 16 days in the hospital, 10 of which were spent on a ventilator, Tracey Sengele says she is feeling much better. But she says the experience of having COVID-19 taught her not to take anything for granted.
Credit Courtesy of Tracey Sengele

March is traditionally allergy season in Central Texas, so Sengele was not in a rush to see a doctor about her symptoms. What finally prompted her to get medical attention?

"I started having problems walking to the kitchen or just a few feet away," she said. An x-ray showed that she had pneumonia, but her case did not end there.

On March 17, she woke up in the middle of the night and checked her oxygen level. It was at 55%. Since her husband was out of town, she drove herself to St. David's South Austin Medical Center. 

She doesn't remember much of the next two days. Sengele's hospital stay wound up lasting 16 days, and she was intubated twice.

Listen to the audio or read the transcript below to hear Sengele's account of her illness in her own words and how having COVID-19 has changed the way she approaches life.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.

Tracey Sengele: The virus — it was exhausting. It was. I didn't have any energy to do anything. It was pretty scary. And I did wait a really long time to get medical attention, so that didn't help. 

The first symptoms I had were the breathing problems. The breathing and the cough. I had the cough for a while, so it didn't really alert me at first. But then I started having problems walking to the kitchen or just a few feet away, so I went to the doctor a few times. [It was] between allergies and asthma, and then when they did the X-rays, it was pneumonia.

I work with children, and I had taken a week off because I was not feeling well. Then the next week was Spring Break, so we had already been out of school. I had been out of the school for about a week before I started having symptoms. No one in my work, family or that community came down with COVID-19 either. So it's really a mystery of where I got it and how no one around me caught it. 

March 17, I had woken up in the middle of the night and my oxygen level was 55%. So I then said, “Yeah, I think it's time: I need to go in and see what's going on.” I was really scared to just go back to sleep with the oxygen that low. Luckily, I did go in. 

I was scared because breathing was getting harder and harder to do. And I remember I drove myself. My husband was out of town. As soon as I'd gotten in, the nurses took me back and started taking care of me. They noticed that my oxygen level was so low, and really after that, I don't have much memory of that first two days. I remember them telling me they were taking me to the ICU [intensive care unit]. I called my husband and told him the situation. And of course, he was out of town, so he was on his way in. At that point, I really didn't know I wasn’t going to be able to get visitors because, again, I didn't know I had COVID-19 yet. 

Within a day of being in the hospital [St. David's South Austin Medical Center], they had told my husband that I tested positive. I had no idea. Didn't even cross my mind that's what I had. 

I was in the hospital a total of 16 days. I was on the ventilator for 10. It was lonely at times. But the hospital made it easier on me. They took real good care of me. Once I came out of sedation and was extubated, I was able to text and call my family as I wanted to. So that was good for the family to hear my voice, them seeing me doing OK. 

Leaving [the hospital], I just felt happier and rested. It’s a weird way to put it, but I was happy to be able to go and see my husband at least, because I was still quarantined afterwards. But it was a relief to know I was well enough to leave, and I know I was pretty lucky. 

Please watch for the symptoms because sometimes the symptoms are mild and sometimes they're deadly. So [in] the beginning of it, watch it and make sure you take care yourself. The doctors had told my family that it didn't look good. My breathing was terrible; they had to intubate me twice. 

It really makes you feel happy to be alive and not take things for granted. And instead of getting upset over the little things, I'm just like, “Oh, it's OK.” You know? I just feel happy to be alive and don't take things for granted. 

I feel good. I’m getting up and exercising, and I'm now able to watch my grandson that lives here with me. I can play with him, and I feel like I'm getting healthier every day and back to normal. 

Got a tip? Email Jennifer Stayton at jstayton@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @jenstayton.

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