Mackenzie Health supports a couple through their COVID-19 journey

Karen Cilevitz and Derek ChristieKaren Cilevitz and Derek Christie felt they had done everything right. They followed public health rules, stayed home as much as possible, kept to a very small social bubble of close family and friends and patiently waited for their turn to roll up their sleeves to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But in April 2021, their lives changed forever.

At the height of the third wave of the pandemic, Karen had already received her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and Derek had just become eligible and was due for his in the days to follow. Both had stayed mostly at home and were hypervigilant, except for what they now refer to as that dreadful day on April 16, when Derek, a musician, had attended a recording session for a new album being produced at his friend’s music studio.

Derek developed a cough and fever about three days after exposure. Within days, both Derek and Karen had tested positive. Both started their 14-day quarantine as instructed by York Region Public Health. They had no interaction with the outside world and groceries and food from family and friends were delivered to their doorstep. 

Karen was slowly getting better, but on day 13, she called 911 after she found Derek unresponsive and barely breathing in the middle of the night. Paramedics took Derek to Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital while Karen worried by herself at home, still under quarantine. 

Less than an hour after Derek was taken to Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital, an Emergency Department physician called Karen with an update. 

“I will never forget that call for as long as I live,” said Karen. “The doctor said, ‘I’m going to bring the phone to Derek’s ear, this might be your last chance to speak to him’ as he had to be intubated and placed on a ventilator.” As the doctor held the phone for Derek, she told her long-time partner that she loved him and that the doctors were doing all they could to help him.

It was mid-May when Derek was stable enough to be transferred to a critical care bed at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital. 

Following hospital protocols and donning personal protective equipment (PPE), Karen finally had the chance to see Derek for the first time in three weeks.

“The care Derek received was exceptional. We are so grateful for the staff, physicians, nurses and specialists,” said Karen. “He is alive today because of the extraordinary care he received at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital and Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital.”

But their fight with COVID-19 was far from over. In late May, Derek began to experience complications while still in the ICU. Critical care physician Dr. Eyal Golan told Karen that Derek had only a five per cent chance of surviving. 

Following another nine days on a ventilator, Derek began to recover once again and on June 2 he opened his eyes. Dubbed “Miracle Man” by the staff at Mackenzie Health, today Derek is learning to talk, walk, sit and chew again. After more than four months of hospitalization – which included five weeks in ICU, followed by acute care and intensive rehabilitation – Derek is back home and grateful to be alive.

“People need to get vaccinated, please do your part and roll up your sleeve,” said Derek. “My partner Karen didn’t end up in the hospital, in ICU like me fighting for her life because Karen had gotten that first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. She was very ill and needed out-patient care but avoided having to be hospitalized. The doctors agree that her first vaccine most likely saved her life.”