The long way home
By Deb Silverthorn
Shira Karp has returned to Dallas after a harrowing bout with COVID-19 that took her from Ireland to Miami and finally back home.
“I’m so grateful,” said Shira, who returned Tuesday, April 21, “so grateful to be healthy and home.”
On Feb. 28, Shira, a special-education major, joined 29 students and three chaperones from her Nova Southeastern University program in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for a 10-day touring and student-teaching trip to Ireland. “It was a short trip but it changed my life,” said Shira, “ultimately in ways I never could have realized.”
On March 10, the morning of the group’s return, Shira woke up with a sore throat and a cough. As the travel day went on, she began to feel worse. By the time she landed in Miami she was feverish, but as no cases of COVID-19 were yet reported in Ireland, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus was ruled out.
Hours later, a friend took her to urgent care as Shira’s chest was hurting. She was ultimately sent to the emergency room with an elevated heart rate, where she was tested for the flu, strep and respiratory syncytial virus. Testing negative for all, she then tested positive for COVID-19. After chest X-rays, she was transferred to the ICU as “patient zero,” Westside Regional Medical Center’s first case of COVID-19.
As her symptoms worsened, her family, parents Jon and Lori and brothers Max and Brady, were still in Dallas. On March 11, a business partner of Jon’s who is also a pilot, flew the Karp parents to Fort Lauderdale. Over the weekend, they were allowed to see her for two, 10-minute visits, “hugging” through glass doors. The couple were only able to deliver her laptop.
By March 17, Shira had turned a corner and was released to five weeks of isolation at her apartment, and her parents drove her car back to Dallas. The university cleaned her living space and delivered meals and snacks three days a week.
Before driving back to Dallas, Shira’s parents shopped for provisions in Target. They met another shopper, Daniela Rosenblat, with whom Lori shared the family’s story. Rosenblat’s husband, they learned, turned out to be a physician at a neighboring hospital.
“This woman, who we’d known for minutes, made Shira’s Passover happen, the Jewish world at work,” said Jon. Shira participated in her family’s Seder via Zoom, and the Rosenblats provided a Seder plate to Shira. “She brought her food to eat, a Seder plate with all the pieces, and she brought faith and goodness to us,” said Jon of Daniela Rosenblat. “No one goes through this alone; the family, the friends and the strangers.”
The only time Shira left her apartment was to retest at the health department.
While in isolation, Shira counted the days until she could return home. She became focused on sharing her story, particularly after reading about a patient from New Orleans who died. His X-rays almost matched hers, she said.
“I want people to be careful and to pay attention, but I want them to know people are getting well,” said Shira, formerly involved in Temple Emanu-El’s youth group and a counselor at Greene Family Camp. “It was scary, but I am good now.”
Shira cleared two COVID-19 tests. She then tested positively for the coronavirus antibodies which allowed her to donate her antibody-rich plasma to help other patients fight the disease.
Shira returned home on the eighth anniversary of her bat mitzvah at Temple Emanu-El. In 2012, she’d read from the Torah portion Shemini, learning of the purifying power of the mikvah and the understanding of the difference between the impure and the pure. This year, that connection had new meaning.
A parade of friends and family welcomed Shira the afternoon of her return. Horns blaring and colorful balloons soaring, the faces of support became Shira’s healing song.