Woman who spent 3 months in COVID-19 coma recounts emotional toll, but says 'just have hope'

Diana Doxtator is an important "aksotha" to those around her, a grandmother from southwestern Ontario's Oneida Nation of the Thames who takes care of relatives and people who have come into her life in other ways.

Diana Doxtator of Oneida Nation of the Thames was in hospital for 4 months

Diana Doxtator sits on the porch of her daughter's home in London, Ont., after coming out of a coma caused by COVID-19. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

Diana Doxtator's eyes fill with tears when she remembers waking up from a coma, months after she went into the hospital with what at first was diagnosed as the flu, but turned out to the COVID-19. 

"I didn't realize how sick I was. I was confused, I didn't know what was going on. I just knew I was really sick," said Doxtator, now home at her daughter's house in London, Ont., after spending four months in hospital, three in a coma. 

Those who know the 69-year-old grandmother from Oneida Nation of the Thames say she embodies konolukhwahsla, a love of her people, and has compassion for anyone around her who needs it. Passing on the Oneida nation and Turtle Clan traditions is really important to her. 

But for four months, Doxtator was cut off from her friends and family, fighting for her life at the London Health Sciences Centre as nurses set up virtual visits with her daughter and a ventilator kept her alive. 

CBC News first shared her story in February, with many readers touched by Doxtator's story and sending her well wishes. 

Now, the family wants to thank those who kept the aksotha (grandmother in the Oneida language) in their thoughts, and show others who have family members in hospital fighting COVID-19 that there is hope. 

"We say 'Yaw¿ko,' thank you, to everyone who was thinking of our mother when she was really ill," said Charlotte Diana Rose Elijah, Doxtator's daughter. 

There were 94 patients with COVID-19 at the London Health Sciences Centre as of Tuesday, 35 of them in the intensive- care unit, where Doxtator spent most of her time. 

'Don't give up hope'

"If you have a loved one in the hospital, in the ICU, don't give up hope. We are thinking of everyone who is sick right now and praying for them. There's so much loss within everyone's community and it's so unnecessary.

"We are grateful that our mother came through, that she made it back, and we believe that everyone's prayers, everyone's thoughts for her really made a difference."

Doxtator's family shared this photo of Doxtator in hospital in a coma to show that things can look bad, but can get better. (Supplied by Charlotte Elijah)

Doxtator was at first diagnosed with pneumonia and released from hospital in early January. A few days later, she was unable to get out of bed. A COVID-19 test taken when she was first in hospital came back positive, her health further declined and she was put on a ventilator. 

At one point, she had tubes put into her armpits to drain the fluid that was building up in her lungs. 

Doxtator was in a coma for three months and then spent time at Parkwood Hospital doing rehabilitation. Now, she gets winded easily and doesn't have much of an appetite, and she's lost most of her sense of smell and taste. 

The family wants to share her story so others know that no matter how dire things may seem, they can get better. 

Family helps healing

Her entire life, Doxtator's home in London was always open to anyone who needed help, and many said she was the mom or grandma they didn't have. 

Doxtator often took in kids and teens that didn't have any other place to go, and Elijah became a foster parent because she saw the love that Doxtator gave. 

Now, having Elijah and five grandkids around helps to build her strength, as does her daughter's love and care, Doxtator said. She hopes to move back to her own home when she gets stronger. 

Diana Doxtator (left) credits the thoughts and prayers of her community as well as the care her daughter, Charlotte Elijah, showed her, for helping her get out of the hospital. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

"My daughter was there all the time for me in the hospital and now. If it wasn't for her, I don't know if I would have pulled through," said Doxtator. "She was always encouraging me to get well, telling me how much I mean to her and to everybody, and that gave me strength and hope." 

She wants others to hang on as well. 

"It's hard. A lot of times, I was almost at the end. But, just have hope. Family is so important. Keep them near you."