Leukemia survivor after COVID-19 recovery: ‘There’s always something to fight for’

Mary Hernandez didn’t realize how sick she was when she came to the MD Anderson Emergency Center on March 30. The 41-year-old was still reeling from the chronic lymphocytic leukemia diagnosis she’d received just a month earlier from Jan Burger, M.D., Ph.D. Then, she discovered she had COVID-19-related pneumonia, a respiratory infection caused by the novel coronavirus. “I don’t think I really took it all in,” she says. “I just remember being scared. I was treating the symptoms at home. But I would’ve come in much sooner if I’d known.” Now, after almost 30 days in the hospital — 17 of them spent on a ventilator — Mary is being discharged home. She has recovered and is eager to reconnect with her family. “It was a very long journey, and I still have a ways to go,” she says. “But I am making excellent strides. I feel ready. And I’m excited to see my kids.” COVID-19 treatment was a team effort For Robert Wegner, M.D., an anesthesiologist who specializes in critical care medicine, the fact that Mary is leaving MD Anderson at all is a small miracle. “She was already in respiratory failure and septic shock," says Wegner. "But we gave her the maximum dose of anti-inflammatory agents and did everything short of putting her on a heart and lung machine to save her life.” Wegner, John Crommet, M.D., and Raja Reddi, M.D., also put Mary on a ventilator at the highest possible setting. They weaned her off as her lungs slowly recovered. “We are all so pleased with Mary’s progress,” Wegner says. “We just took it one system...