PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — 2019 was shaping up to be a great year for Shacanna Garcia.
In August 2019, the belly dancer wowed the crowd at Norfolk’s CaribFest and she looked forward to spending time with her family for the holidays.
The year did not end as she had planned, and 2020 was devastating.
For the Thanksgiving holiday, she was ill and for the next several weeks she was in and out of the hospital for treatment of the flu and pneumonia.
On March 17, 2020, just as the pandemic had been declared in Virginia, Garcia was diagnosed with pneumonia at Riverside hospital. On April 27, she collapsed at home and was transported to Sentara Careplex Hospital in Hampton. There, she was diagnosed with a cardiac event that doctors reportedly described as “the widow maker.”
“The nurses screamed and yelled ‘Oh my God she is having a heart attack.’ I coded twice,” said Garcia.
Her sister Sharry Goode, who lives in Petersburg, wanted to be by Garcia’s side. Other loved ones were allowed inside the hospital at the peak of the pandemic in what doctors thought was an end-of-life situation.
“They let the family in to see her and they called for her last rights and later on [doctors] said ‘We need to get her out of here because we don’t know what we are looking at,'” said Goode.
She made it through the night and was transported by helicopter to UVA University Hospital.
“She was intubated. She had a feeding tube, a tracheostomy, colonoscopy, kidney dialysis, all of the above,” said Goode.
About 21 days later, doctors called on the big sister to make the dreaded call.
“I said ‘No, do not take her off life support,'” she recalled.
The once vibrant belly dancer was in a coma and down to 114 pounds. Her sister visited virtually and spent many hours on the floor watching over Garcia’s care.
“As I visited, her skin would turn darker and darker. Her organs were essentially shutting down,” said Goode.
Although Garcia was in a medically induced coma, she told 10 On Your Side she could hear everything around her.
“I could hear them talk about pulling the plug, yes. I could hear them talk [saying] that I’m not responding and that it didn’t make sense to keep me on this ventilator,” said Garcia.
Big sister Goode believed Garcia could respond and says she did by pressing her tongue against the inside of her cheek. She convinced doctors to keep trying.
Then, in an experiment, doctors used transfusions to treat Garcia’s rare genetic disease, an underlying condition that wasn’t diagnosed until she arrived at UVA. In a matter of days, the experiment saved her life.
Garcia still has COVID long hauler symptoms and she has a message for those who call the pandemic a hoax.
“It is not made up. It is not a hoax. It is real and it will attack anybody,” said Garcia.