The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A covid-19 patient’s family was choosing her gravestone. Then she awoke after weeks on a ventilator.

The family of Bettina Lerman, 69, was planning her funeral when she unexpectedly came out of a coma. (Andrew Lerman)

Bettina Lerman, 69, had been on a ventilator for more than a month when doctors told her family she would not survive her battle with covid-19.

“They told us, ‘Your mother is never going to wake up,’ ” her son, Andrew Lerman, recalled in an interview with The Washington Post.

Believing there was no hope, Andrew and his siblings planned to take Bettina off life support at a hospital in Portland, Maine. First, they flew down to Tavares, Fla., where Bettina lived, canceled her lease and donated many of her possessions. They planned Bettina’s funeral down to what she would wear, and they were in the process of choosing her gravestone.

“It was the end of the line,” Andrew said.

But on Oct. 29, Andrew received a call from the doctor, who told him to come to the hospital. His mother had done what they previously said was not possible: She woke up.

“I was completely beside myself,” Andrew said. “I dropped the phone because I was going to be terminating life support that day.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, more than 763,000 Americans have died after falling ill with covid, according to The Washington Post’s tracker. But as that grim number has climbed, there have also been stories of patients surviving long, intense battles with the disease.

In early October, an Alabama man left the hospital after a 73-day fight with covid-19. Before being released in August, a Utah man spent 223 days in the hospital, at one point having to decide whether to undergo a risky procedure, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Bettina was in Maine to help Andrew and his family care for his father, who was battling Stage 4 cancer, Andrew said. But in early September, Andrew, his wife, father and Bettina all contracted the coronavirus. Andrew, who had not been vaccinated, said being sick was “brutal,” but he, his wife and father recovered.

Bettina, who also had not been vaccinated, did not recover. “She was planning on getting vaccinated before she left Florida, but she ran out of time,” Andrew said. “She was going to get vaccinated up here, but she came down with covid.”

After about a week of being in the hospital, Bettina was put on a ventilator and fell into a coma that lasted more than a month. Doctors told Andrew’s family that Bettina’s lungs “were destroyed,” he said. And because Bettina was reaching her 70s, had diabetes and had undergone a recent quadruple-bypass surgery, doctors “thought there was no chance of survival at that point.”

Now, Andrew said, Bettina is out of the intensive care unit. While she still requires breathing assistance, “they’re already talking about rehab hospitals — stuff like that,” Andrew said. “Three-and-a-half weeks ago, they were talking about end-of-life stuff.”

Andrew’s sister, Jennifer Miele, wrote in a GoFundMe page that “we are by her side as she fights to get better every day.” She added that the doctors have called Bettina’s recovery a “medical miracle.”

Andrew told WMTW that Bettina plans to get vaccinated after her recovery. He told The Post that his mother’s illness, along with his own coronavirus bout, “changed my outlookand that he will get the vaccine as well, “because if we were to get covid again, maybe it won’t be so bad.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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