Ottawa

COVID-19 survivors share their stories — and their hope for the future

We hear the stories of three people in Ottawa who contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Thousands in Ottawa have recovered since the start of the pandemic

Ernie Cecchetto, an Ottawa business executive, is seen here with his wife and their three children. Cecchetto was diagnosed with COVID-19 after returning from a trip to Mexico in March. (Submitted/Ernie Cecchetto)

While there have been nearly 400 COVID-19 deaths in Ottawa since the start of the pandemic, thousands of people who've contracted the novel coronavirus have also survived.

As case numbers continue to soar in many regions of the country, survivors who've now recovered are glad they're able to tell their stories of hope.

'Teary-eyed' 

After the first case was diagnosed in Ottawa back in March, Jenny, a nurse at an acute-care hospital, set up her own daily infection control routine at home. 

"We were being so cautious. I was coming in through our back door. I would get undressed, nobody was allowed to touch me. I would shower and throw my stuff in the laundry," she said. 

CBC has agreed not to publish her last name.

A lot of things go through your head, and we didn't know the whole trajectory of COVID.- Jenny, a local nurse

At the time, the public shows of support for hospital and nursing home workers gave her a boost. But as case numbers continued to rise, she grew more afraid of going to work.

Then she started hearing about health workers in other regions dying.

"I was teary-eyed many days going in," she said. 

By early December,  roughly 10,500 health-care workers in Ontario had contracted COVID-19 — and Jenny was one of them. She'd noticed her symptoms one day at the hospital, when someone poured her a cup of tea and she couldn't smell a thing.

By the next morning, she placed herself in quarantine. She started getting migraines, fatigue, aches and pains. Then, her then-four-year-old son tested positive. 

"A lot of things go through your head, and we didn't know the whole trajectory of COVID," Jenny said. "My son, luckily, had no symptoms and was completely fine. But you worry ... I didn't sleep a lot in those two weeks." 

Now recovered and back at work, Jenny is taking part in a research project that's examining people who contracted COVID-19.

"I don't think people are as afraid anymore. We know a little bit more about what we're dealing with," she said.

Cecchetto, left, was one of the first people in Ottawa to donate his plasma for COVID-19 treatments. (Submitted by Ernie Cecchetto)

Lingering psychological effects

Ernie Cecchetto and his family were on holiday in Mexico in March when the government began telling Canadians to come back home.

Within a few days of returning, he was feeling lethargic and having trouble breathing.

"I ended up probably picking it up on the way back," said Cecchetto. "At the airport we were shoulder to shoulder." 

Like many others who've had COVID-19, Cecchetto lost his sense of smell and taste. He quarantined in his basement, and the symptoms only lasted a few days before he began feeling better.

But for Cecchetto — the first person in Ottawa to donate plasma to a research project by Canadian Blood Services research project —  there have been lingering psychological effects 

"It's the concept of this pandemic and the unknowns that really plays with everybody," he said. "Also the symptoms seem to vary so much between different people and different age groups."

A local businessman, Cecchetto also worries about the long term economic impacts of COVID-19, particularly on small businesses.

"I think we're going to be paying for this virus for decades and decades," he said.

Brianne Quarrell first tested positive for COVID-19 on March 30, 2020, and continued to test positive weekly until mid-June. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Hit fast, hit hard

For Brianne Quarrell, a 40-year-old rehabilitation assistant at an Ottawa-area hospital, she's spent months recovering from COVID-19 and still doesn't feel 100 per cent.

Quarrell had an autoimmune condition before contracting the virus. She spent a month in hospital, and was intubated and on a respirator for part of that stay. 

"I got hit very hard, very fast, and that was scary," said Quarrell. "I think because it hit so fast and I was intubated so quickly, I never had time to think about how scary it was until after I got home, after I got a bit better."

She now hopes to be back to work early in the new year.  She figures her entire family, including her husband and two children, were all positive for the virus at some point during their long quarantine.

Seeing other health-care workers and elderly people get the vaccine, Quarrell said, gives her much-needed optimism.

"I think this is such good news to hopefully get us over this craziness," she said. "I know I'm not at the forefront to get vaccinated. I'll wait my turn. I'm just anxious to see how this all plays out, but it gives us hope."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the new CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On. You can reach her at julie.ireton@cbc.ca

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