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Diana Bemis

Raising Her Arms After COVID

Holy Name Patient Stories - Diana Bemis

When Diana Bemis got COVID-19, she could tick off the symptoms – severe body aches, no taste or smell, sore back, no appetite – that the virus triggers in many people. She felt like a truck hit her, backed up and ran her over two more times. It was a miserable two weeks. 

She finally started feeling better but seemed to plateau, never fully regaining her sense of normalcy again. She couldn’t explain what was wrong – she had no pain, digestive issues or fatigue. She just felt very foggy and couldn’t seem to think straight. Then, she started to decline.

“By Mother’s Day, I knew something was brewing but I couldn’t explain it,” Diana, 50, said. “I thought it was another cold or virus.”

Diana continued to worsen as days stretched into weeks. Meanwhile, Diana managed to get through her days, working in finance and spending time with her boyfriend and friends. She went to the beach for July 4 but by the time she got home, she couldn’t lift her arms – they felt so heavy. She was horrified to realize she couldn’t change her own clothes. 

Several doctors and a trip to the emergency room shed no light – tests revealed no diseases that would cause her symptoms. As illnesses were ruled out – she didn’t have a brain tumor or MS – she then went to see Dr. Marissa Oller, a neurologist at Holy Name Medical Center, who thought Diana might have an autoimmune condition. 

Working with Diana’s medical history, Dr. Oller was able to piece together an unusual string of events that left Diana so ill. Years ago, Diana developed a thymoma, a benign tumor on her thymus. Doctors had been keeping an eye on it for years to make sure it didn’t grow or change. 

“Dr. Oller said that COVID woke up the thymoma, which triggered another condition called myasthenia gravis,” Diana said. 

Myasthenia gravis is a neuromuscular disorder that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles. These muscles are used for movement, which was the reason it was so difficult for Diana to raise her arms or walk. 

By this time, Diana was nearly bedridden, too weak to move her arms and her tongue was swollen. Her mouth was drooping and she could barely swallow. She had lost 25 pounds. 

“Due to the progression of her symptoms, Diana needed to be admitted immediately for treatment,” Dr. Oller said. “She received immune modulating treatment and had to have the thymus gland and tumor removed.”

Diana agreed to the treatment and surgery quickly. She trusted Dr. Oller and Holy Name implicitly. She had been coming to Holy Name for most of her life – it’s where she delivered her son, was treated for her breast cancer about a decade ago, had a hip replaced and knee surgery.

“Everyone at Holy Name has been so good – from the nurses to the aides, doctors, people in registration – they are all amazing,” Diana said. “If not for Dr. Oller finding this problem, I can’t imagine what my life would be,” Diana said. “I thought I was dying. I couldn’t eat because it was so hard to swallow but I was so hungry – the hunger pains were terrible. I cried all the time. My mom and boyfriend took turns taking care of me.”

Just days after the surgery, Diana started feeling better. She began eating again and felt the heaviness slowly lift off her limbs. Her mobility improved. She will have the condition for the rest of her life, but it’s managed with medication. 

“It’s hard to believe that COVID can trigger something like this – the virus attacks everyone’s body so differently,” Diana said. “I thought it would affect my lungs because I have asthma. But thank God Dr. Oller knew what it was and was able to treat me. I’m so grateful to her and the whole staff who took care of me.”

Diana has reclaimed her life. She is engaged to her boyfriend, working and spending time with family and friends. “I made it! And my days have been sunny since I had my surgery – I can raise my arms. Don’t ever take life for granted because it can be taken away so quickly. I’m so blessed.” 

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