URBANA, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — A father has urged doctors at an Illinois hospital not to pull life support for his unvaccinated daughter who was hospitalized in intensive care with a severe case of COVID-19 several weeks ago.
“I think she can pull through,” Richard Juvinall said moments after a difficult conversation with doctors about his daughter’s outlook. “Now this is totally out of our hands.”
Juvinall and his family asked us not to publish his daughter’s name while she fights for her life in intensive care, but he agreed to share his family’s story about the desperation and shock they felt when they heard doctors tell him his daughter might not survive a battle with the coronavirus.
“I want them to do everything possible and let us make the decision on whether to pull her plug,” he said.
Juvinall claims ICU doctors put his daughter, a young mother, on an ECMO machine, which is a special device that cycles blood from a patient’s body to infuse more oxygen into the bloodstream to support their heart and lungs. Even as doctors advise him that his daughter’s outlook is bleak, Juvinall says he and his family aren’t ready to give up on their efforts to keep her alive.
“They just don’t want to treat her no more. They want to make the decision of taking her off life support.” He says, “I told them, ‘No.'”
He and other members of his family claim the hospital agreed to keep her on life support for another week and revisit the topic in one week if she manages to survive long enough.
“It’s basically up to God, and God is the one that can take her,” he said.
Officials at Carle Hospital would not comment on the patient’s specific case, citing a lack of a waiver to discuss private medical information, but in a statement, a spokesperson said the family would be included in the decision about when to end life support if it comes to that point.
“While we can’t discuss publicly any specific person’s care, it’s important to know that Carle values and prioritizes the experience of every patient and we work to ensure all patients, families and caregivers are part of the process to achieve the best outcomes possible,” Public Relations Manager Brittany Simon said.
In an interview, Allen Rinehart, the hospital’s Vice President of Inpatient Operations, discussed many of the common challenges doctors across the system have faced over the last year and a half as they sometimes have to deliver difficult news to families.
“Those decisions are made on a daily basis with all patients who are critically ill,” Rinehart said, describing the process in general. “Our physicians and our nurses communicate with patients and families on an ongoing basis, and together they come to consensus on what’s the best plan of care for each individual patient.”
The average hospital stay for patients with COVID can often take up bed space for a lot longer than patients with other conditions, which can compound administrative or regional efforts to create bed space for new incoming patients.
“COVID patients who are hospitalized tend to be here longer than many other diseases that are treated in the hospital, particularly ICU patients,” Rinehart explained. “It’s a respiratory problem. The lungs just aren’t functioning right, and it takes longer for those lungs to heal and get to the patient to the point to where they’re safe to go home again.”
The state’s southern-most region, Region 5, recently reported five available ICU beds, though they were completely out of beds for weeks.
Out of the 21 Illinois counties with the lowest vaccination rates, 19 of them are in deep southern part of the state. Two of them are on the state’s western border with Missouri.
While Carle Hospital’s main campus is located in Champaign County, which boasts the state’s ninth highest vaccination rate, some of the outlying locations in the hospital group often treat patients from as far south as Clay County, which has the state’s ninth lowest vaccination rate out of 102 counties at just 35%, or as far east as Vermilion County, which has vaccinated just 42% of its 18-and-over population.
“One of the most common components of a hospitalized COVID-positive patient is they’re unvaccinated,” Rinehart said. The latest available data says out of the 85 patients hospitalized in Carle facilities, 74 of them are unvaccinated.
For the first time in weeks, the number of COVID-19 related hospitalizations slightly declined at Carle Hospital facilities, though most of their ICU beds are still full.
Juvinall, who was vaccinated, says he later lost trust in the efficacy of vaccines after he tested positive with a breakthrough case of the Delta variant.
“I don’t believe in it anymore,” he said. “I did at one point, but after I got sick and then my whole family got it because I had the shot.”
In fact, the FDA says the vaccines do not contain any Coronavirus particles, and cannot infect a person with COVID-19. That is just one out of many common misconceptions that medical professionals have to overcome with patients, in addition to the challenging task of treating their physical symptoms.
“If you’re not vaccinated, your likelihood of becoming hospitalized, or needing the intensive care unit, or dying, is significantly greater than if you were vaccinated,” Rinehart said.