COVID-19 survivor ‘one of the lucky ones’

Donna Mueller

At the Valmeyer Music Boosters Dinner Theater on March 14, Donna Mueller fell backstage. 

Over the next few days, she started feeling a little sore and getting very tired. She lost her appetite and wasn’t drinking as much water, though she could still taste and smell. 

She attributed her problems to the fall. 

The 74-year-old Valmeyer resident went to an urgent care facility, where she got tested for the flu and learned she had a kidney infection. 

A few days later, one of her daughters who works in health care said she should go to the emergency room because she was having trouble breathing. 

“I can’t say I felt sick,” Mueller recalled. “I was just tired and short of breath.” 

Mueller went to Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital in Creve Coeur, Mo., where doctors discovered she had double pneumonia and very low kidney functions due to dehydration.

They began treatment, but the second day a doctor told her about results of a precautionary test they had done when she was admitted the ER. 

It was the test for coronavirus. 

“He said, ‘well it’s a surprise. You have the coronavirus,’” Mueller recalled. “That surprised everybody.” 

Mueller spent eight days in the hospital and was released two weeks ago. 

She has made almost a full recovery now, though she still feels a little weak.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said.  

Overall, it appears Mueller had relatively mild symptoms of the virus, with the worst one being her double pneumonia. Those who get COVID-19 can range from having no symptoms to having catastrophic respiratory problems that require a ventilator for survival. 

“I never felt like I thought I should feel,” Mueller said, noting she never ran a particularly high fever. “I thought it would feel much worse. My heart goes out to those who didn’t make it through all this.” 

One of those people was Gene Rice, who was the first Monroe County resident to die due to complications of COVID-19.

The 83-year-old Waterloo man died April 6, according to his obituary. 

Rice retired in 1997 after 30 years with Monsanto. He served as a deacon at Westview Baptist Church in Belleville before attending First Baptist Church in Waterloo and Concord Presbyterian Church in Waterloo. 

He and his wife of 62 years, Nancy, enjoyed camping and boating in their early years. They spent the winters in Texas for the last 15 years. 

Rice is survived by Nancy, his sister, two children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

Mueller also has multiple children and many grandchildren, though none of them could visit her while she was in the hospital once she was diagnosed. 

“Once you’re in, nobody can come and see you,” Mueller noted. “If your family is lucky enough to know which window is yours, they might be able to wave at you, but you don’t get any visitors. That always kind of worries me. If you’re sick, you don’t have anybody to hold your hand or be with you.” 

Some of Mueller’s family couldn’t visit because she lives with them in Valmeyer, so the Monroe County Health Department told them to quarantine at home. 

One of her son-in-laws had minor symptoms, but he has since recovered and no one else has gotten sick.  They are no longer quarantined. 

While she was in the hospital, Mueller was on oxygen and antibiotics as treatment. 

She said the hospital staff provided excellent care, always taking proper precautions of wearing personal protective equipment when treating her and promptly removing it when they finished. 

“They were amazing,” Mueller said. “It was a positive experience. I had wonderful care.”

Mueller also said her experience battling cancer a few years ago helped her mentally fight the virus, as she knew she just had to deal with it. 

“I couldn’t change it, so you just do what you have to do,” she said. 

Within a few days of being home, where she still quarantined within her house, Mueller no longer needed oxygen or the walker the hospital sent home with her. 

After her quarantine ended, Mueller was able to see all her family again and even walk around the neighborhood – though she still practiced social distancing just to be safe. 

“It was wonderful,” Mueller said. “I was just glad I had recovered. I wasn’t really scared and I knew (the doctors) were doing their best, but I was just glad to get back to my own house and my own bed.”

Despite their best efforts, Mueller said the doctors and the health department could not determine how she first contracted the coronavirus. 

“I have no clue where I got it,” Mueller explained. “I wasn’t at any other large gatherings other than at the dinner theater in Valmeyer, and as far as I know nobody else there got sick. I had gone to church and gone about my regular routine until the governor said ‘stay at home.’ Then we pretty much stayed here. We even ordered our groceries in. We followed all the rules.” 

Having the virus reinforced to Mueller the importance of following recommendations by experts and government officials.

“I highly recommend social distancing, wearing your mask and any of that because, like I said, I have no clue where I got it,” she said. “I might have got it from someone who coughed or sneezed or someone at the grocery store.”

“I really think that them catching (my case) early really helped,” Mueller added. “If I had just kept going and not followed the stay at home order, I can’t imagine how many people I would have come in contact with.”

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