NEW ORLEANS — A recovering COVID-19 patient credited one of her nurses for helping her survive the virus. She said the nurse gave her the hope to pull through the tough battle.
"I'm hooked up to everything known to man, and they just leave me here," Tonie Williams said in tears recalling her time in the hospital with COVID-19.
One of the toughest parts for her was the isolation.
"I don't think I'll ever get over the emotional trauma it did to me," Williams said.
One month ago, she thought she had a sinus or upper respiratory infection until her doctor told her she needed to be admitted to Tulane Medical Center, suspecting she may have had COVID-19.
"The only thing I wanted to do was lie down," she remembers.
She tested positive, and she got sicker as her breathing got tougher. Williams feared the worst.
"In my mind, I'm here to die. That's where I was," she said.
She said she was asked about a DNR and a will.
"Are you Catholic? Do you want a priest?" she remembers being asked.
She lost hope.
"In walks, this little nurse, and she looks at me and says 'how you feeling' and I shook my head," Williams remembers. "She walked over to me and put her hand on my forehead and said 'it's going to be okay.'"
She only knew her as 'Stephanie,' and she said she showed compassion in big ways and small.
"A couple of positive words, a touch on my forehead meant the world to me," she said. "I told her 'just let me lie here. I understand my fate' and she turned around and looked and said 'not on my watch.'"
April 3 after 11 days in the hospital, Williams was able to go home. She still has some trouble breathing but is recovering and believes it's in no small part due to Stephanie.
"She wasn't giving me false hope, she was just giving hope," she said.
Williams has been trying to track Stephanie down ever since to give her a gift and say thank you. After a week and a half of searching without luck, she contacted WWL-TV, hoping to share her story to find Stephanie.
After a few calls to Tulane, we tracked her down and surprised her over a Zoom call.
"You found her? You didn't," Williams said in tears.
As soon as Williams saw Stephanie over Zoom, she cried and said: "Lady, I've been looking for you since I left the hospital."
Stephanie Haiko has been a nurse at Tulane for 10 years. She typically works with bone marrow patients on another floor which is why no one knew who she was when Williams called looking for her. Haiko was volunteering to help the COVID-19 unit.
"I want you to know it's because of how you treated me I came out of there," Williams told Haiko. "Because you gave me hope."
Haiko told Williams she always had a team behind her.
"To see you now like this, you are my touchstone," Haiko told her, in awe of her progress.
She may not have realized the power in her actions at the time, but now it's clear the impact both had on each other.