Florida teen who was hospitalized with COVID wants to get vaccinated, says others should too

Saturday, September 4, 2021
'This virus is not a joke': FL girl, 15, with COVID on ventilator
"This virus is not a joke. It's a real thing," the girl's brother said.

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. -- A Florida teen who spent 11 days on a ventilator after she contracted COVID-19 has a message for her peers and others.

"My message, technically is: If you're eligible to get the vaccine, please do," Paulina Velasquez told CNN from her home in Coral Gables in Broward County, Florida. "I plan on getting vaccinated as soon as my doctor lets us know when I can."

Paulina, 15, had intended earlier this summer to get vaccinated. But then she got a runny nose, and then came headaches. She lost her sense of taste and smell. Breathing became hard.

On July 11 she tested positive for the coronavirus. Less than a week later, the healthy, energetic high school sophomore was in a Fort Lauderdale hospital emergency room struggling to breathe normally.

It was very scary, she said.

Because her oxygen levels were low, doctors immediately put her on a ventilator.

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Felix Vazquez's mother said they made the decision together not to get the vaccine, but she said she would do things differently if she could go back in time.

"That was the scariest moment when they told me because I didn't know what to expect," Agnes Velasquez said. At first, she didn't want her daughter on a ventilator but she was told her daughter's condition could get worse.

Then she told the medical staff: "Just do what you can do to save my daughter's life."

Paulina also had pneumonia and was put in a medically induced coma. Mom made the decision to stay in her daughter's room, where she was told she couldn't come out.

Agnes Velasquez told CNN last month that she told her daughter every day to, "Fight for your life."

Paulina's doctor, Dr. Venu Devabhaktuni, the medical director for Broward Health's pediatric ICU, said in August that the teen was "kind of touch and go" while she was on a ventilator.

"Things could have gone bad quickly, but she recovered because she's one young, healthy child. That, I think that was in favor of her recovering," Devabhaktuni said.

After almost a month, Paulina was well enough to go home from the Broward Health Medical Center.

She is doing physical therapy to get stronger. Her arms and legs are still weak but she is now able to walk on her own.

She also has to work on learning how to pick things up and hold things.

Paulina said she is improving every day and she wants others to avoid a similar experience.

"It is a very serious virus. This virus does not pick and choose who to infect," she said, her words aimed at the unvaccinated. "It could hit you as hard as it hit me. And I don't want anybody to go through what I went through."

Doctors say when Paulina is strong enough she can get vaccinated.