Still breathing: senior Hailey Funk undergoes lung surgery during a pandemic

November 5, 2020

“I went in thinking I had corona, and I came out knowing that I almost died,” says senior Hailey Funk. It’s easy to take life for granted when you’re stuck in the rut of a pandemic, but Funk had a rude awakening when it was first discovered that she had two blood clots in each of her lungs.

The discovery

As availability for COVID-19 testing spread across the nation, many people took advantage of the opportunity. Many people who were tested suffered from the symptoms of COVID, some of which include shortness of breath, coughing, and fever. “For a couple of weeks I had symptoms of COVID, and I kept getting really sick. I couldn’t breathe, I was really short of breath, and I eventually passed out,” Funk says. 

Due to the similarities between the symptoms that Funk was experiencing and the known symptoms of COVID, she decided to get tested. “They got me tested for COVID and it came back negative, and then I went to the ER. There, the doctors did a ton of different tests and found two pulmonary embiosis in my lungs, which are blood clots,” she explains. If untreated, they can be fatal.

After the shocking discovery of the blood clots, the doctor explained the possible reasons behind them. “I have thicker blood, and what they believe is that due to not having a lot of movement, because I was out of school at that time, they believe that a blood clot formed in my leg and made it through my lungs. So basically, I had two quite large ones in each lung, and they just gave off the same symptoms of COVID,” she explains. Although relieved that she didn’t have COVID, Funk had to face a new challenge: emergency surgery the same day. 

Funk was transported from Borgess to Bronson via ambulance. She was put in an isolated room and precautions were still taken to ensure the safety of the hospital staff even though she tested negative for COVID two weeks prior. She was tested again for COVID, and once it came back negative, they stopped the precautions. She was then sent down to surgery at around midnight.

Transitioning back to “normal”

Funk at a horse show before the pandemic and her lung surgery. She has been riding for 11 years. (Photo courtesy of Hailey Funk)

After the surgery, Funk tried to transition to her new normal. She is an employee at Old Navy, and after recovering a little after the surgery, she decided to return to work. “They told me that my safety and health come first, and that I can take all the time I needed,” she explains. “When I called them and told them I was ready to come back, I had to go through COVID wavers and different policies.” She started out slowly, ensuring that she would be able to transition smoothly after such a serious surgery. “They started me back with 10 hours a week, and had me working extremely short shifts,” she says. Funk felt fully supported by Old Navy and her fellow employees. “They would constantly check up on me and make sure I was ok,” she says.

Funk also had strict post-surgical restrictions. “When I first got out, I was on blood thinner, so I had to give myself shots every twelve hours,” she explains. “I couldn’t do anything. They wouldn’t let me do any sports, they wouldn’t let me ride horses, they told me to barely move around the house,” she explains. This meant that, at least for now, her two main passions would have to be put on hold. 

Funk has participated in horseback riding for the last 11 years. Riding is a large aspect of her life, and her and her horses would compete in several competitions per year. She has also been a member of the track team since her freshman year and is a varsity thrower who does discus, shot put, javelin, hammer, and weight throw. 

Now that she is recovering from the surgery, sports are an unknown factor. “I’m not sure how track is going to go because of the quick movements,” she worries. “I can’t even stand up quickly right now without almost passing out. It’s going to be a hard journey if I do go back to track.”

Pandemic concerns

The CDC indicates that for someone her age, the risk of hospitalization due to Covid-19 is 9 times lower than someone older and the risk of death is 16 times lower. However, having any kind of pre-existing lung disease or condition, like Funk’s blood clots, increases an individual’s risk of severe illness from Covid-19. Severe illness from COVID-19 is defined by the CDC as hospitalization, admission to the ICU, intubation or mechanical ventilation, or death. While Funk is not overly concerned, she is still abundantly cautious.  

“My doctor told me that a lot of other doctors are telling their patients with breathing issues, like mine right now, to not wear a mask, but my doctor told me definitely do not do that,” she says. Even though she already has trouble breathing, she outweighs her discomfort with the knowledge that getting COVID would be much worse. “He said that if I do get COVID because I wasn’t taking the precautions I need to, it’s going to be a ton worse than the little breathing issue that I have with a mask on,” she explains.

 

Keeping her head up

Funk was very private about the surgery initially because she didn’t want any extra stress during the healing process. She chose to tell a select few, including one of her closest friends, senior Caitlin Sullivan. “Hailey actually ended up texting me when she was first admitted to the hospital as she was waiting to get a transfer,” Sullivan shares. “We ended up chatting for a bit since she explained the whole story to me on what had happened.” The discovery of the blood clots came as a surprise to everyone. “I was honestly shocked about it, since it scared me that she had to go in,” Sullivan adds.

Now that it has been months since the surgery, Funk reflects upon her experience. “It still hasn’t hit me yet because of how fast it happened,” she says. “I realized that any moment could be your last, and that you have to be careful.”

Funk’s experience opened her eyes to how precious life is. “I see myself as totally different now,” she says. “I was just living my life and having fun and then overnight everything could have completely changed.” 

She has also found a new appreciation for life: “I realized how grateful I am to still be here, and how to find good in everything,” she explains. Anyone can learn from her experiences, and how she chose to try to look on the brighter side of life despite the difficult circumstances she faced. Even though she faced the possibility of death, she keeps moving forward with a new outlook on life.

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