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O.C. woman wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19. After 6 months in the hospital, her outlook changed

Wynter Ho sits on her wheelchair outside in her garden.
Garden Grove resident Wynter Ho, 26, was a patient at Fountain Valley Regional Medical for about six months battling COVID-19. She was released from the hospital last week and is encouraging everyone to get vaccinated, not only protect themselves but to protect others.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

At first Wynter Ho thought it was the flu. Her head throbbed and she had trouble breathing.

The 26-year-old struggled walking up and down the stairs of her townhouse. She had grown up with asthma, but it never felt this severe.

It wasn’t until her mother told her a family friend she visited caught COVID-19 that Ho realized she might’ve also got infected. Ho wasn’t vaccinated and spent the entire weekend with her mother. A trip to a local testing site confirmed her suspicion later that day.

“In the beauty industry we’re in close contact with customers, so I was being extra careful,” said Ho, who owns a beauty salon in Huntington Beach. “I had been careful with my clients and I had a whole schedule packed with all my customers and I remember feeling really disappointed that I had to message everybody and let them know [I was ill] and cancel.”

The positive result would take her out of work for months, beginning in July, as she fought to survive at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital.

Ho is among a group of young adults who have held back against getting vaccinated against COVID-19 because of concerns they have over the possibility of long-term effects, as well as mixed messages they encounter on the internet and among friends and family. A 2021 study found one quarter of unvaccinated young adults in the United States are unlikely to get the shot over similar concerns.

For the past year, Orange County public health officials have urged everyone to get vaccinated and boosted, once eligible. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 2.3 million O.C. residents had been fully vaccinated and over 975,000 had received their booster, according to data provided by the O.C. Health Care Agency. With the Omicron variant spreading fast, young adults ages 19 to 44 are driving COVID infections in the county.

The easiest way to help minimize overloading the healthcare system is to get vaccinated, boosted and follow public health measures, said Dr. Hoang Le, Ho’s pulmonologist at Fountain Valley Regional Medical.

“We see that when you’re fully boosted, getting severe COVID or hospitalization is much much lower,” Le said. “It doesn’t mean the vaccine doesn’t work. It does work — we have to get everyone vaccinated and boosted according to science.”

Now, Ho is slowly recovering in the comfort of her mother’s Garden Grove home. She visited her beauty salon and looks forward to working with her clients and returning to her normal life.

Still, the daunting experience doesn’t escape her. She describes her “nerves out the roof” as she first was transported from room to room at the Fountain Valley hospital.

“I was pretty miserable,” she said. Her family tried to keep her spirits high by dropping off her favorite food and treats such as Otter Pops, mangos, coconut juice and Fruit Gushers.

Ho had “pretty significant pneumonia” on both sides of her lungs and her oxygen level was “quite low” when first admitted, said Le, who served as her pulmonary consultant. She was provided with oxygen support and other therapies usually given to patients with COVID pneumonia, but Le said she didn’t respond well.

“After a week, she got to the point to be placed on a ventilator, otherwise she wouldn’t have made it at all, period,” Le said.

Ho was terrified at the doctor’s recommendation. She said she initially rejected the idea until her mother and aunt convinced her as it could be the only way to help her survive. By then, her family, including her father who flew in from Oklahoma, met at the hospital to see her, worried that it might be the last time they could visit before she died.

While she was sedated, she said she dreamed of her family and remembers faintly hearing their voices when they’d visit her.

Ho said she regained full consciousness in October.

“I was depressed and crying every day and confused,” she said. “I knew I was in the hospital but I didn’t know time had passed all the way to October.”

Ho then embarked on her journey to recovery. She downloaded the Speech to Text app to help her communicate as she slowly relearned how to speak and move her body.

She used the iPad mounted on her hospital table to stay in touch with her family and to get a peek into the outside world. Sometimes her aunt would FaceTime with her while she drove around. Ho celebrated Christmas virtually with her.

Every milestone came with support from her medical staff.

“No one person did this,” Le said. “This is the entire team. The ICU nursing staff went above and beyond and helped her. [Ho] really inspired us how hard she worked and wanted to improve.”

After fighting to survive, Ho is thankful for her second chance at life. She was greeted with applause and balloons from staff and family as she was wheeled out of the hospital.

Ho said she got vaccinated first thing afterward. Now she’s urging her community, especially young adults, to do the same.

“Get vaccinated even if you feel you don’t go out too much,” she said. “You just never know. Better be safe than sorry.”

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