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Local mother shares survival story after near-death 133-day battle with COVID-19

Posted at 6:13 PM, Aug 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-19 18:13:48-04
(WXYZ) —

The coronavirus hit one local mom so hard, she was hospitalized for 133 days. At one point, doctors told her family there was a 90% chance she was going to die.

The first time we told you about Gloria Finzel, she was clinging to life, and family members say doctors at Beaumont’s Wayne Hospital wanted them to sign a Do Not Resuscitate order

The Finzel family refused, and instead fought to get her moved to Michigan Medicine for a treatment that ultimately saved her life. The U of M survival flight helicopter airlifted Gloria to Ann Arbor, just as Beaumont Wayne closed its doors to all patients back in April.

At the time, her daughter wasn’t allowed to hold or talk to her mom. Caitlyn Finzel could only talk to nurses through the windows and watch from afar as her mother was loaded into the survival flight chopper.

“At one point I was told she had a 90% chance of dying,” said Caitlyn.

The 59-year-old librarian from Farmington Hills first had coronavirus symptoms on March 30, 2020. Within days, her husband, Jim, had to take her to Beaumont Farmington Hills, the hospital closest to their home.

“Then they moved her to the Wayne hospital, then I’m getting a call they’re intubating her, and the next thing, they’re saying that we need a DNR cause she’s not going to make it through the night,” Jim Finzel told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo. “It was terrible. We’ve been married 35 years, and to imagine that I’m not going to see my love of my life that I’ve been with for 35 years – and the last time we got to say goodbye is a bump on the elbow?”

After Jim took Gloria to the hospital, he started experiencing coronavirus symptoms. He became too ill to make decisions, so Caitlyn had to step in.

“I felt I was being told I had no options. And I knew that there were more options,” said Caitlyn.

She found out about a life support system called ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), where your blood is oxygenated outside the body.

Caitlyn got Gloria transferred to Michigan Medicine, where she immediately underwent surgery to get her on the treatment.

Both Caitlyn and Jim Finzel feel ECMO saved Gloria’s life.

“Oh absolutely,” said Jim. “She wouldn’t be here without it.”

“110% yes,” said Caitlyn.

Gloria was unconscious for 2 months, and after 133 days in hospitals and rehab facilities, she’s finally starting to heal.

“It has been a long road,” Gloria told Catallo via Zoom from her skilled nursing facility.

Gloria now has to re-learn how to talk after being on a ventilator so long, how to walk, and how to handle stairs.

“I want people to know that COVID-19 is real. That it has been a very hard journey,” said Gloria through tears. “Don't take this lightly. It can happen to anybody. I was a very independent woman, working 40-50 hours a week and now to this.”

Gloria says she is grateful to all of the health care workers who saved her life, and she’s especially grateful to her daughter.

“If Caitlyn wasn't so tenacious and wanting to get good healthcare for her mom, I don't know if I'd be alive today,” said Gloria.

“My mom has always been my strength. She is a very strong-willed, independent woman. I guess I never imagined I would be in the position that I would have to be strong for her,” said Caitlyn.

On Sunday, Gloria was discharged from the skilled nursing facility and now she can continue her recovery at home.

A parade with more than 100 friends and neighbors welcomed her home.

“It's been such a blessing to have everybody's prayers and people thinking about me. It has really made a difference to me,” said Gloria.

Gloria Finzel is expected to make a full recovery, although it will take many months of physical rehab before her life looks like it did prior to COVID-19.

If you have a story for Heather Catallo, please email her at hcatallo@wxyz.com.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.