Former reporter sickened by COVID-19 leaves rehab after more than two months of treatment

Virginia Beach

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — In summer’s blistering heat, 10 On Your Side first met Debbie Cohen by phone after she called from Consulate Health Care in Norfolk where the air conditioner failed.

In a telephone interview, Cohen coughed aggressively, gasped for air, and screamed out for help when her oxygen system shut down momentarily. Electricity was restored, the HVAC system was repaired, and over the following weeks, summer slowly gave way to fall.

On Oct. 15, a pleasant but warm fall day, Cohen headed back to her Virginia Beach home.

For 10 weeks, she was under a doctor’s care for COVID-19 and several associated long hauler symptoms including tachycardia, a disorder that causes a rapid heartbeat, severe fatigue, muscle weakness, and a lingering cough.

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Just outside Consulate Health Care’s beautifully decorated greenhouse, Cohen met with 10 On Your Side for her first in-person interview.

“I want to thank all the nurses and all the CNAs. I know they work really hard and I know they are stressed at times because of the shortage of medical workers,” she said.

The ordeal started in early August when she was admitted to Sentara Princess Anne Hospital. There, she was diagnosed with the potentially fatal COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“I think back to what I went through. It is a horrible feeling to gasp for air, it’s like feeling you’re a fish underwater and you can’t breathe and you are praying to catch just one breath just to live,” Cohen said.

She was also diagnosed with pleurisy, which is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the lungs.

“It was as if someone were taking a knife and digging 24 hours a day in my chest. And that’s even with some painkillers. It’s the overall suffering; it was the most horrific experience I have ever been through and at one point, I really thought I was going to die,” she said.

Two weeks later, she was transferred to Consulate, where doctors treated her for the long hauler disorders.

Regina Mobley: “So Debbie, you had the opportunity to get the vaccine. Why did you not get the shot?”

Debbie Cohen: “It’s a two-fold reason I had underlying eczema and allergies… The second reason was — and I admit I was wrong — I was listening to a lot of people and some prominent people even on TV that were saying the vaccine is a hoax. [For example], you could die in a year, you can be tracked, it edits or changes your DNA. I realized it was bizarre but these were prominent people.”

Cohen cited Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as one of her sources of misinformation. The son of the slain presidential candidate, Kennedy Jr., who is also an environmental attorney, was banned from Instagram for spreading false information about the coronavirus and the vaccine.

The former journalist, who holds two master’s degrees from Regent University, used to spend long hours walking along the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. Upon her return home, she has to practice just to walk around her house.

She plans to get her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine at the end of November. Cohen has this message for the vaccine hesitant: the numbers are not on your side.

“I urge people to get the vaccine because think of your alternatives and think of the statistics. Which group is dying? More of the vaccinated or the unvaccinated?” she said.

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