'Life is worth fighting for': COVID-19 survivor heads home after months in hospital, mother's loss
When she regained consciousness after three months of a medically induced coma to combat a severe case of COVID-19, there was one person Shaquita Slaughter longed to see first.
"I want to talk to my mother," Advocate Lutheran General Hospital infectious disease specialist Dr. Alice Han recalled Slaughter saying after she woke up in October.
At the request of her family, physicians deferred telling Slaughter that her mother, Sheila Marie Carter, had succumbed to COVID-19 in September while her daughter was fighting for her life.
When her brothers broke the news, "that was pretty sad," Slaughter said Thursday during a briefing at the Park Ridge hospital. "I didn't even get to go to the funeral."
Despite being hospitalized in early July, "it was like I just woke up yesterday. I still can't believe it."
The loss devastated Slaughter, 36. But there were four compelling reasons she couldn't give up: sons Noah, 16, Nakaila, 13, Carmelo, 11, and Cashmier, 9.
Bit by bit, agonizing step by agonizing step, she got her exhausted body back to the point where Lutheran General doctors allowed her to return to her East Dundee home Thursday.
"It was tough," Slaughter said. "I kept saying to myself, 'I got to get back to my kids. I got to walk.'"
Supporting Slaughter throughout her illness were younger brothers Princeton Carter and Pierre Carter.
"Christmas came early," said Princeton Carter of Elgin.
The siblings described their mother as a "warrior," someone who was "always praying" and an incomparable cook who glued the family together.
"My mother died in my arms," Princeton Carter said. And with his sister sick, "I was so much more fearful for her, I stayed by her bedside. I would talk to her, play her gospel music, do real hard praying."
Pierre Carter described the last few months as "the worst nightmare you can ever think of. The hardest thing in the world is losing your mother at 51."
But he stepped up, caring for his four nephews and his five children. "I'm the cook, the cleaner, it's hard ... especially when it comes to homework," Pierre Carter said with a smile.
The virus infected multiple members of Slaughter's extended family. Her mother was initially wary of getting vaccinated. "It was so new," Princeton Carter explained. "Everybody was challenging this vaccine."
"Once she had (COVID) ... it took her so fast. COVID-19 is very real. Get vaccinated. That was my mother's dying wish. If she was vaccinated, I think she'd still be here."
Slaughter said she wasn't hesitant about the vaccine but "I think I was just too busy." She became fully vaccinated on Friday and is encouraging everyone to be inoculated.
"This is real," said Slaughter, who because of COVID-19 complications suffered finger injuries in addition to having trouble walking.
Han urged people who are fully vaccinated to schedule booster shots.
Slaughter "was one of the sickest patients I've seen over the pandemic to survive," she said. One reason for the virulence of her case may have been intense and prolonged exposure to COVID-19 from other family members. "She and her mom were among the last to get sick" of the family, Han said.
One turning point for Slaughter was her enrollment in the hospital's acute rehabilitation program.
It was a rough start, Han said. "She was literally screaming in pain when she tried to stand."
But the rehab regime, "affectionately known as boot camp," worked, said Dr. Susan Lis, a Lutheran General rehabilitation expert. "She was so excited when she stood up for 10 seconds for the first time."
Now Slaughter can get around with a walker and "I do anticipate she will be independent again, but it's still a road," Lis said.
The first step on that journey will be reuniting with her sons in person, not virtually.
"I'm going to hug them and tell them I love them," Slaughter said. And, after weeks of hospital meals, she really wants some soul food. "Greens, cabbage. The good stuff."
One epiphany from her battle: "You realize life is worth fighting for."
A GoFundMe drive has been set up for the family. To donate, go togofundme.com/f/help-our-sister-shquita-get-back-on-her-feet.