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Five hundred and counting: Linglestown resident returning to life as Penn State Health marks milestone

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By Jeanette Krebs

Two little faces peer into a window, anxiety and joy jumbling together in their expressions.

The scene is one of the first vivid memories Brenda Pogue has of her battle with COVID-19. She doesn’t remember anything about her stay at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the weeks she spent there struggling with the illness. As she was traveling from the hospital to a rehabilitation center, the fog began to slowly lift. The recollection she comes back to when she thinks about her ordeal is seeing her grandsons looking at her through a window during rehab.

“I really don’t remember anything about it until being at the rehab,” she says. “I keep asking, how did I miss a whole month?  I missed Easter?”

Brenda is a member of the growing ranks of COVID-19 patients Penn State Health has discharged. The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and St. Joseph Medical Center reached a milestone over the weekend. The hospitals released their 500th patient last weekend

All have joined a club to which none of them expected or wanted membership.


On a recent crisp October afternoon at her Linglestown home, Brenda reflects on what she still does not know about her time at the hospital and the path she continues taking toward her full recovery. Her daughter, Laura Yates and her two grandsons are visiting her and her husband, Cliff. Yates still talks about the homecoming in June when the whole neighborhood showed up to welcome her mother home after being gone 56 days.

In early April, COVID-19 hit Brenda as an intestinal ailment. A doctor suggested she go to Hershey Medical Center for fluids. While there, she tested positive for the new coronavirus. That night she opted for a ventilator and by 10 p.m. the disease worsened. It was a nightmare for family and friends as she spent weeks fighting the illness.

When she first went home, Brenda was using a wheelchair and walker. She had physical therapy, speech therapy, slept in a hospital bed set up in the dining room and battled with constant fatigue. More than three months later the hospital bed is gone, the wheelchair and walker are nowhere in sight and physical and speech therapy sessions have successfully ended.

“She came back to us right away,” Yates says.

Brenda, who will be 68 next month, says she still gets tired quickly, adding that doctors tell her that could be an unwelcome companion for several months. Generally, she feels good and is happy she can walk without assistance.

Closer than ever

These days Brenda and Cliff spend a lot of time at home playing games or snuggling together watching television. Yates says her parents have never been closer. Brenda also enjoys her grandsons and is waiting patiently for her first granddaughter to be born. Her only big outing so far has been a car trip to Kentucky to see Yates’ sister, who is expecting the baby girl. Brenda knew her daughter was taking every precaution to stay healthy and felt it was safe to visit her.

She is very cautious about going anywhere. She has been to the grocery store only once and visits with a lot of people happen in her driveway. Everyone wears masks.

Along with her regular checkups, Brenda is now part of a study at Johns Hopkins Hospital of organ transplant recipients who contracted COVID-19. Years earlier Brenda received a liver transplant.

As for the time she lost, Brenda is not sure how much she wants to know. Yates says she has shared some of the story. She also posted daily updates about her mom’s struggle in the hospital on Facebook for a group of “prayer warriors.” That is where #brendastrong and #brendasprayerwarriors were born. Another 100 people received more frequent updates during each day from her on Twitter. Brenda said she is reading the posts but can only handle one or two at a time. It is hard to pore over details of her medical crisis. It’s just as hard to glean the emotional toll her illness was taking on her family.

Now, out on the other side, Brenda says she preaches extreme caution about the disease to anyone who will listen. For her part, Yates says she has learned the power of prayer and positivity.

“A huge thank you to Hershey Medical Center for saving this special woman for us,” Yates says. “They brought her home to two very grateful grandsons, two incredibly thankful daughters and an unspeakably grateful high school sweetheart.”

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