Mary Mariner let down her guard for a brief time in September to visit her sister during the coronavirus pandemic, not knowing that the visit exposed her to COVID-19.
"I cannot believe I'm here, that I'm alive, and I've got so many beautiful things to look for in the future," Mariner said. "It was scary."
Mariner's symptoms came on suddenly and with life-threatening consequences.
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"Mary was incapacitated," her husband Larry Mariner said. "She couldn't hold her hands above her head. She couldn't get dressed. She couldn't walk, and there was some terrifying moaning."
Mary Mariner had a heart attack, caused by COVID-19.
"My dad called 911," Mariner's daughter Stacy White explained. "So within 48 hours of the onset of her symptoms, she was already in critical condition."
"Once they drive off in the ambulance and you think, 'I did the most I could do,'" Larry Mariner said. "Then, 'Will I ever see her again?'"
Mary Mariner had profound heart failure caused by COVID-19, a rare condition that needed special help for her to have any chance to survive.
"That's when it was time to call Baylor," said White, a nurse at Baylor University Medical Center's lung transplant unit.
"She called me somewhat frantically on a Saturday night," Dr. Gary Schwartz said. "Her mom, who lives in San Antonio, is not doing well. She was in the hospital with COVID and had developed heart failure from COVID."
"The fear was that she would not survive a transfer," White said. "Because her heart was so fragile."
Mary Mariner's best chance of survival was to be put on ECMO, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, a machine that circulates the blood outside the body to give her heart time to heal.
"We were in Dallas," Schwartz said. "She's in San Antonio, a few hundred miles away."
So a RED team, Rapid ECMO Deployment, flew from Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas to San Antonio to perform surgery to get Mariner on ECMO. Then, they flew back to Dallas with the COVID-19 positive patient on-board.
"So our team was at risk," Schwartz said. "We had to be in full personal protective equipment the entire time."
"Their ability to go to her with all of their equipment, and their staff, and all of their resources was a crucial part in saving my mom's life," White said.
ECMO has been used on other COVID-19 patients, but most of them have issues with their lungs. Though heart failure from COVID-19 is more rare, Schwartz said the heart is quicker to heal. Three days after being put on ECMO, Mariner was off the machine and on the road to recovery.
"She was just an all-star," Schwartz said. "Not every patient can go through what she went through and come out on the other side."
"They gave me back a wife, a mother, and a grandmother all at the same time for the rest of our lives," Larry Mariner said with tears running down his cheeks. "So we'll be grateful every day."