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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

An Omaha RN describes being ‘on the other side of COVID-19’

January 06, 2021

“I never thought I’d be on this side of COVID.” With a 31-year career in nursing, Donna Kerber is comfortable in taking care of others and finds joy in being able to provide comfort to those in need. She struggles when it comes to asking others for help. After a battle with COVID-19, Donna’s role switched to that of a patient, which has proved to be a humbling experience.

Donna had recently started a new job when, in early November, a rapid COVID-19 test confirmed she was positive for the virus. While quarantined at home, her symptoms progressed to where she was unable to breathe. That’s when she called the ambulance and was taken to CHI Lakeside Hospital and admitted. A Type 2 diabetic, during her stay, Donna’s health deteriorated; her blood sugar levels became dangerously high, she developed pneumonia, went into respiratory failure, suffered two small strokes and her brain tissue became inflamed. She was on a ventilator for 18 days.

“I have seven perfect grandchildren,” Donna said. “During my stay in the ICU, my two sons were preparing them for the worst possible scenario.”

Donna has no memory of her fight, but she pulled through, arriving on Dec. 18, 2020 at Madonna’s Specialty Hospital on the Omaha Campus disorientated and unable to talk and walk. “I didn’t know who I was or where I was. I was terrified.” But through therapy and the help of her care team, including nurses like Jessica Knebel, she’s made amazing progress in just a handful of days.

“I have never been anywhere with a more cohesive group of nurses. When you put the call light on, whoever is available answers the call,” Donna said. “Before they leave they ask, ‘Is there anything I can do before I leave?’ The teamwork is simply amazing.”

“I love to see the progress patients like Donna make,” Jessica Knebel, RN, said. “It’s exciting to see them ‘do one more.’ One more step, one more bite, one more rep. It’s rewarding to see and hear how far they’ve come.”

Donna continues to gain strength and stamina. She plans to go through Madonna’s continuum of care and move to Acute Rehabilitation and one day soon, walk out of Madonna. Due to the unexpected illness and mounting bills, she shared her story on social media and is amazed at the outpouring of support she’s received.

“I’m always the one providing the care or help. So to be on the receiving end is humbling. I’m so thankful for the generosity and kindness everyone has shown.”

Regarding COVID-19, she has this to say. “Take COVID seriously. Wear a mask. Get the vaccine. It’s a big deal.”

See coverage of Donna's story from KETV here

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