These days, Vanessa Matautia takes a deep breath and then reflects on things she used to take for granted … like deep breaths.
Matautia has been released from isolation following a month-long battle with COVID-19, an ailment that at one point left her short of breath, sensitive to a feather’s touch, and experiencing fevers.
The lack of energy was startling for Matautia, who had spent a decade — through 2014 — as the events coordinator for Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance, an organization that helped Hawaii student-athletes secure college scholarships. Doris Sullivan, founder of the now shuttered PIAA, said Matautia took the lead in organizing combines and signing events. “She did so many things for us,” said Sullivan, who is now retired.
Matautia, who now lives in Tacoma, Wash., suffered a heart attack earlier this year. In March, her brother tested positive for the virus. Matautia, her brother and their mother share a house.
On April 19, Matautia felt fatigued, and also experienced fevers and severe body aches. Soon after, she lost the sense of smell. “I had a bottle of Vicks open, and I couldn’t smell it,” she said.
Her doctor advised her to take Tylenol for headaches, continue with her regular medication, and, if needed check into the emergency room. While maintaining self-quarantine at home, Matautia began experiencing bouts of labored breathing.
“I was starting to lose the ability to take a full breath,” Matautia said. “I was doing the shallow-breath thing for a while. I started to get a cough. I started to take that full breath, and it got to a point where it would hurt. And it would start a coughing fit.”
At its worst, “it was like drowning,” Matautia said. “It’s like your right below the surface, and you just can’t get there. It went on for a 10-minute thing.”
She checked into Multicare Tacoma General Hospital on April 30. She said she was treated with a broad-spectrum, anti-viral medication and plasma therapy.
“It started to work really well for me,” said Matautia, who spent a week in the hospital.
“I remember in the beginning (of the pandemic) when we used to talk about it, we’d all say, ‘Oh, it’s just the flu,’ ” Matautia said. “This is not the flu. Not at all.”
Matautia said she is back to feeling “normal.” She said she has regained most of her sense of smell. She also expressed gratitude to friends who dropped off meals.
“There was a part where I didn’t want anybody to know,” Matautia said. “But I just said, ‘I think everybody needs to know about (the impact of the virus). A lot of times when I talk to people, I’m the only person they know who’s gotten this.”