It all started with a sneeze.
A few days later, Mariam Yide had tested positive for the novel coronavirus and was placed in a coma as physicians worked frantically to save the pregnant Winnipeg woman’s life.
Two months later, when Yide opened her eyes again, she had already given birth to her son, who died soon after. Shortly after, surgeons began amputating parts of her body.
The 41-year-old wife and mother of two young children considers herself lucky and thanks God she is alive.
Now, Yide wants to use her own body, so anyone with doubts that COVID-19 is simply a cold or a flu can see with their own eyes what the virus is capable of doing.
"I show my hands to people and I tell them this is COVID," she said, sitting in a wheelchair in her St. James neighbourhood home. "They say, ‘What? I’ve never heard of that,’ but people have to know how hard it can be.
"This is what can happen with COVID."
Yide, who came to Canada from South Sudan with her husband in 2011, was working as a health-care aide at Deer Lodge Centre when her COVID journey began in January 2021.
After almost a year-long feverish race, scientists had come up with not just one, but three effective vaccines to protect against the virus COVID-19 and reduce the chances of hospitalization and death.
However, scarcity of doses at first meant the earliest ones were jabbed into the arms of the people who needed it most: vulnerable seniors in long-term care homes and front-line health-care workers.
Yide’s turn hadn’t come yet.
When she went to work one day that January, she was sneezing, but that wasn’t believed to be a symptom of COVID at the time and, otherwise, Yide felt fine.
After she was tested, her test results came back positive.
"I couldn’t believe it, but I figured I would isolate for ten days and then go back to work like others had," Yide said.
"I locked myself in my room for three days with no symptoms, but then on the fourth day, oh my God. I found it hard to breathe."
Yide called for an ambulance and was taken to hospital. After she was assessed by doctors, she was deemed well enough to be sent home.
Three days later, on Jan. 14, she again was taken by ambulance to hospital, where doctors found her oxygen levels so low they admitted her.
Yide was scheduled for a cesarean delivery a few days later. At the time, she was in the sixth month of pregnancy.
"The doctors said: your situation is not getting better… it is time to remove the baby."
As Yide was being prepared for surgery, her condition worsened and the procedure was cancelled.
"I developed pneumonia. I went into a coma. My kidneys were failing. They talked to my husband and said they’re not going to do a C-section because (I) could die and the baby would, too," she said.
"I had no idea what was going to happen to me. When they injected the medication, I thought I’d wake up to see my beautiful baby."
While Yide was in a coma her son, Noah, was born Jan. 29. He died the next day.
She has photographs of the infant on her chest after he was born and, a day later, on her chest after he died.
"I was in a coma until March 15. That’s when they said I opened my eyes. I put my hands down to my (abdomen) and it was flat. There was no scar. I couldn’t talk for weeks because of the ventilator but I used hand signs to ask them: where is my baby?
"But they didn’t want to say because I was still recovering."
Yide wasn’t told what happened for more than a month.
By then, the amputations had started. (SARS-CoV-2 is associated with a risk of clotting complications that can cause a sudden decrease in blood flow to a limb.)
"My left leg below the knee and half of my other foot," she said. "On my left hand, I lost three fingers. My right hand, the two fingers in the middle.
"But by the grace of God I survived. They call me ‘Miracle Mariam’ at St. Boniface’s ICU."
Yide is also thankful for something else. While her two boys, now ages five and three, got COVID and recovered, her husband, Moses Tabe, never got it.
Both she and her husband are now fully vaccinated.
"He’s a miracle, too. If he had got COVID, it would have been hard with our children," she said.
With everything Yide has been through, she feels she has survived for a purpose — and part of it is to show people what happened to her, so they know what the coronavirus can do, especially to the unvaccinated.
Yide said she met one such person recently, while getting therapy at the Rehabilitation Hospital.
"His body is paralyzed a little. The man was not vaccinated," she said.
"I’m still on medication. I’m not back at work. I’m on worker’s compensation, but I know I cannot do what I did before.
"It’s very important to get the vaccine and to be safe."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.