SARS survivor warns about COVID-19


When asked if she was susceptible to COVID-19, Debbie said, “If I get it, I’m dead. If I get pneumonia, they tell me I wouldn’t make it.”

LENOIR CITY, Tenn. (WATE) — Before the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, the world was confronted by the SARS coronavirus back in the early 2000s.

An East Tennessee woman who is a SARS survivor reached out to WATE 6 On Your Side consumer reporter Don Dare to let others know how serious COVID-19 is.

The outbreak of SARS in late 2002 and early 2003 was a chilling warning of our vulnerability in the face of mother nature. It was an epidemic that brought part of the world on the edge of panic.

While the worldwide numbers of those affected by SARS are very small in comparison to the present COVID-19 pandemic, the virus brought a lot of suffering to a woman who lives outside of Lenoir City.

Debbie Johnson and her husband Dale enjoy life to fullest. He almost lost Debbie 18 years ago, when she was exposed to the contagious virus called SARS.

“The Severe Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome.”

Debbie Johnson

Debbie said she was working at a motel off Interstate 40 when she contracted the virus, and health experts said SARS was transmitted primarily from person-to-person.

“It had to be through the motel work. I was at the desk. I was in the rooms with people traveling. It’s the worst nightmare anyone can ever go through. I came down with it in December 2002.”

Debbie Johnson

Debbie says she was hospitalized for more than a month.

“Even after I left there, I had to go into rehab because when I left the hospital, I weighed 76 pounds. They said I was very lucky to be alive.”

Debbie Johnson

In 2003, the World Health Organization issued a global alert for SARS, and said its severe form was first reported in Southern China and then spread to nearly three dozen countries and 38 states.

Debbie says her rehabilitation took more than a month before she fully recovered in 2003. Today, her health remains fragile.

When asked if she was susceptible to COVID-19, Debbie said, “If I get it, I’m dead. If I get pneumonia, they tell me I wouldn’t make it.”

She says she wanted to talk with us because of the national debate over whether one should or should not wear a face covering when in public.

“A lot of what you hear on TV, oh it’s OK not to wear a mask, don’t believe it. Don’t be the one who is in the hospital bed. No one wants to be there. Only by the grace of God, I am here now. That is it.”

Debbie Johnson

With the number of COVID-19 cases rebounding in Tennessee. Debbie strongly believes that if we all follow the safety protocols outlined by health officials, the curve will again be flattened.

Incidentally, by the time the global outbreak of SARS was contained in late 2003; the virus spread to more than 8,000 people worldwide and killed almost 800.

No SARS-related deaths were reported in the United States.

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