FORT CARSON, Colo. — Debra Lamb has a message for anyone who believes the coronavirus is a hoax.
Lamb, a 30-year civil service veteran and a Directorate of Public Works (DPW) housing manager, contracted the COVID-19 virus late in 2020 and experienced a harrowing ordeal before partially recovering months later.
Even now, she uses a heart defibrillator and goes about her daily life at a slower pace than she did a year ago.
“This virus is very real,” she said. “People should continue to take precautions and do what’s necessary to safeguard their health.”
Lamb explained that while others around her didn’t end up catching the virus, she contracted it the last week in October 2020, long before vaccines were available to the public. While many people who contract the virus experience fever, cold symptoms and lose their sense of smell and taste, Lamb said she experienced none of those.
“Back then, the only way to combat the virus was to wear a mask, maintain social distance and sanitize hands and work areas,” she said. “I exercised all of the precautions, like my coworkers and family members, but I’m around a lot of people most of the time. Somehow, I caught the virus.”
Oct. 22, 2020, stands out as the day she noticed something peculiar. Short of breath, she visited Evans Army Community Hospital and tested for the virus. Hospital personnel informed her the very next day that she, indeed, was positive for COVID-19 and instructed her to quarantine. She was also instructed to inform her immediate family members and anyone she had come in contact with that week to also quarantine.
“Of everyone I work with and live with, I was the only one who tested positive at the time,” she said. “What was weird was (that) the shortness of breath was my only symptom. I didn’t feel sick; I just couldn’t breathe very well.”
With each passing day, her symptoms worsened and by Oct. 30, 2020, an X-ray test revealed fluid was building up in her lungs. Medical staff at UCHealth Memorial Hospital ultimately drained more than a gallon of fluid from her lungs and she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital.
“That was a really scary time, and I prayed a lot,” she said. “Doctors and nurses there were dressed in full virus preventive gear. I was placed in a room and not allowed (to have) visitors, which made the situation even more scary. I had IVs connected as medical staff delivered medication to treat my symptoms and I was given shots to control my diabetes (type II).”
Thankfully, she began recovering in those first few days. Doctors provided oxygen while she was in the ICU, but she was never placed on a ventilator. Ultimately, she was released from the hospital after four days then spent another 14 days recovering at home.
Now, almost a year later, she feels thankful to be alive. Her recovery, however, is still ongoing.
Her discharge diagnosis included short-term memory loss, lung damage and congestive heart failure. And though she was back at work for DPW a few weeks later, she continued to feel less than 100%.
“My heart was beating at about 25%,” she said. “Doctors prescribed medication to improve my condition, but after six months, those didn’t seem to work well, so my doctors gave me three options — continue on the heart medication, allow them to implant a heart defibrillator or take a chance of heart failure. I chose the defibrillator.”
Doctors implanted the defibrillator in late June 2021, but Lamb’s not sure she’s noticed significant improvement.
“I don’t know if I feel better because I’ve convinced myself that I do or if it’s actually happening,” she said. “It’s certainly better than imminent death, though. Now, I’m considered a COVID-19 ‘long termer.’”
In the meantime, she continues her daily duties at DPW, which includes touring Army barracks and other activities. She also tracks her daily steps with the goal of eclipsing 6,000 a day. She said her doctors would like more time for the surgery area to heal before allowing her to resume more strenuous activity.
Lamb received both Moderna vaccinations this past April and continues to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Also, as someone who endured a serious medical condition due to the virus, she continues to encourage people not to take the virus lightly.
“Debra’s dedication to ‘People First’ is evident as her interaction with Soldiers and Families is her priority,” said Clinton Reiss, housing division chief for DPW.
“Debra has to be available to our customers who arrive and leave Fort Carson every day and understands the risks associated with COVID-19. With all the precautions she put forth, she still contracted the virus and fought it off like the champion she is, but not without difficulties from the experience. Debra’s experience scared all of us in the Army Housing Office, making us realize how dangerous this virus is when it attacked our small corner of this garrison.”