COVID-19 Survivor Ravi Turman Thinks She Lived to Give Others Hope
Rays of sunshine warmed Ravi Turman’s skin and a spring breeze rippled over her body as she left the hospital, proving to Ravi that she was indeed alive.
Ravi’s survival had been very much in doubt at times over the 15 days she spent at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.
She had arrived in grave condition on the night of March 22, struggling to breathe as her lips turned blue. Then within hours, both of her lungs collapsed and a ventilator had to breathe for her. A test confirmed what her team already suspected: she had COVID-19.
Ravi’s doctors gave her a 50% chance — at best — of ever getting off the ventilator and surviving.
She faced especially bleak odds because Ravi, 51, has some underlying health issues including diabetes and high blood pressure. Ten years ago, she had uterine cancer and had had to have dozens of lymph nodes removed. Plus, she’s African American. COVID-19 has been sickening and killing African Americans at an alarming rate across the U.S. Doctors don’t know exactly why African Americans are faring so poorly during the pandemic. One contributing factor may be that a greater percentage of African Americans have conditions like diabetes, heart problems and hypertension.
Bringing sunshine to others
Ravi’s name means sun in Sanskrit and she believes she survived her ordeal with COVID-19 to bring a little sun to others.
“There’s not a lot of hope out there for anyone getting the virus, but if I survived, anyone can survive,” Ravi said. “Don’t be dismayed by what you hear, just because we are getting it. There is hope.”
In addition to bringing comfort to African Americans and people with underlying health conditions, who are justifiably frightened about COVID-19, Ravi’s sunny attitude cheered her nurses and doctors.
Against the odds, she was the first person in her COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to make it off the ventilator and to once again breathe on her own.
“She surprised us,” said Dr. Josh Douin, the anesthesiologist who made the call to “extubate” Ravi, removing her breathing tube and detaching her from the ventilator.
“She’s spunky. She had a strong will to live and to leave the hospital,” Douin said.
“She was our first victory. It was really a morale boost for the team to see that we could get people through to recovery. We’ve had some losses too, so it’s been great to have victories.”
Dr. Julie Winkle cared for Ravi the day after she was extubated. Ravi was weak still and her throat was too sore to talk, but when Winkle let Ravi know she was the first person in the ICU to get her breathing tube out, Ravi flashed a beautiful smile and celebrated.
“She raised her hands over her head. She was pumping her fists in the air,” Winkle said. “Her personality came through. She just has this innate feistiness and she used it to get better.”
A newcomer to Colorado and a bout with a new virus
Ravi is a minister and loves to sing, dance and revel in life. Before moving to Colorado a couple of months ago from Indiana to be with her 29-year-old daughter, Ana Caldwell, Ravi served a small congregation at Impact Christian Church.
“My focus is just being a positive light for anyone. It doesn’t have to be about shoving the Bible down someone’s throat. It’s just being a positive light. I was in the hospital a long time. I got to see the nurses and the doctors and you could see that they were tired, but they were trying to be upbeat. I would hold their hand and look them in the eye and tell them, ‘Thank you for helping me.’”
She came to Colorado for Christmas to be with Ana and ultimately decided to stay.
Ravi started working at the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. She doesn’t drive, so she took two buses and a train to get to her job. Ana believes that’s how her mom became exposed to the new coronavirus, which by early March was circulating throughout Colorado and the U.S.
A cold that never got better
At first, Ravi thought she just had a bad cold. But the cough grew worse and she had a fever that wouldn’t break. Ravi’s boss encouraged her to see a doctor, but it was the weekend and Ravi hesitated to go to the hospital.
“I had some shortness of breath, but I brushed it off because I’m still new to Colorado. I thought, ‘It’s just me.’ Indiana is below sea level and moving here was a big change,” she said.
On Sunday evening, March 22, she was Face Timing with her 81-year-old mother, Doris Davis, a former jazz singer and retired paralegal and project director for Indiana Legal Services, Inc. Davis lives in Indiana.
Davis noticed that her daughter’s face had a purplish-blue tint to it
“You’ve got to go to the hospital. You get in the car and go to the hospital now,” she told her daughter.
Ana took her mom to the ER at University of Colorado Hospital and sat with her as long as she could. Then, hospital workers took Ravi up to the ICU, where she soon became non-responsive as her lungs collapsed.
Ravi remembers almost nothing from the first 10 days of her hospital stay.
Her team kept Ravi’s family up to date and the outlook was pretty grim.
“They told us she had a 50-50 chance. They didn’t really know, but they were going to try some things and see if they could help her breathe better,” Doris said.
‘I heard their hearts breaking’
Ravi has few memories from her time on the ventilator, but she distinctly remembers once feeling like she was slipping away.
“I was getting ready to leave,” Ravi said.
There was no dread about dying at first. Then, Ravi felt a powerful sensation.
“I could feel my mother’s heart breaking and I could hear my daughter’s heart breaking and that brought me back,” Ravi said. “There was a dark day when they told my daughter that it could go either way. And I guess it was that same day.”
Ravi has two sisters and one brother. Decades ago, her mom lost a baby boy, who was three years older than Ravi. He was born with a hole in his heart and died at three days old. Today, babies with those types of heart problems survive. But there was no cure then.
Even in the haze of her coma, Ravi didn’t want her mom to suffer the tragedy of losing a child a second time.
“It brought me back,” Ravi said.
A critical turning point
Dr. Douin didn’t expect Ravi to be his standout patient.
“She had very severe lung injury. It was remarkable that we were able to extubate her,” he said.
But, he and his team were able to take her off the ventilator and allow her to use a C-PAP or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine to force oxygen into her lungs. Ravi has sleep apnea and was used to using the C-PAP.
“She did very well,” Douin said.
He credits Ravi’s attitude as much as the medical care she received.
“She had a strong will to leave the hospital and that helped her quite a bit,” he said.
Douin said he and his colleagues are seeing a number of patients of color — both African Americans and Latinos — who are becoming critically ill from COVID-19.
He doesn’t think they are more susceptible to getting the virus, but rather that patients with many underlying illnesses may have weaker immune systems than healthier patients.
“It happens that African Americans have higher rates of hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes. Long-standing socioeconomic discrepancies likely also are playing a role,” Douin said. “Those are our best guesses as to why we are seeing so many non-white patients.”
It is not lost on Ravi that she essentially came back to life just before Easter, the holy season when Christians celebrate resurrection and rebirth.
Someday, perhaps Ravi will have a new congregation and she will preach about the time when she came face to face with a historic plague, and for some reason that she still doesn’t fully understand, she survived.
“I really do think I’m here for a purpose. And part of it is to tell my story,” she said. “I have things yet to do. I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m a mother. It just wasn’t my time.”