For Penticton’s Nancy Browne, seeing her 86-year-old mother recover from COVID-19 was a sign that there is hope.
Despite countless battles with her health, Betty Jukes continues to defy the odds.
The Bobcaygeon, Ont. resident has been through more in the past several months than most have in their entire lives, beating COVID-19 while simultaneously battling cancer in both her neck and lungs, blindness, a fractured hip, and dementia.
“She’s 86 years old,” said Browne. “I guess you can’t have eight kids without becoming real tough.”
Now that the dust has settled, Browne says it’s important for people to know that COVID-19 is not an automatic death sentence.
“I think the good news about this whole story is, first when you hear (of) somebody that’s over 80 years old and they get COVID, you automatically think it’s a death sentence. That’s what we thought, but I think it’s important for people to know that it’s not necessarily a death sentence,” explained Browne.
“There is good news.”
Despite being more than 4,000 kilometres away, Browne has managed to connect with her mother through virtual calls, although she admitted it’s hard to not be with her during these trying times.
From her living room in Penticton, Browne talks with her mother on her iPad daily. Although virtual calls are not the same as in-person conversations, Browne said they are always cherished.
“Whether we have one more day with her, one more week, month, year or more we are blessed to have been given this extra time with her,” said Browne.
In November, Browne flew back to Ontario to visit her mother. At this point, Jukes was still living on her own. Although dementia was starting to creep in, Jukes was adamant about not living in a nursing home.
Together, Browne and her sister Kim Tully, who lives in Ontario, worked to accommodate their legally-blind mother, but things were taken out of their hands Dec. 1 when Jukes fractured her hip.
Nurses warned the sisters during the first two weeks of December that their mother would likely not recover from the surgery, or the anesthetics, due to her dementia.
“They might last two to six weeks, maybe three months,” said Browne.
At the same time, cat scans revealed cancer in Jukes’ lungs.
About three weeks after her hip surgery, Tully said enough was enough, and committed to staying with her every day.
“She (mom) was pretty much laying in bed going bathroom in the bed, and stuff like that. And she was used to walking all over the place,” explained Browne.
Tully was with her mother at the hospital from when she woke up in the morning, until she fell asleep again at night, leaving only to make meals for the two of them.
Come the middle of February, Jukes was still in hospital. At this point, her dementia was becoming increasingly worse.
However, Tully was able to take Jukes back to Bobcaygoen where she cared for her in her apartment.
“She overcame the hip surgery, and defied those odds, she came out of it,” said Browne.
On March 23, Jukes fell in the apartment, and Tully couldn’t get her up. Fearing she had broken her hip again, they called the ambulance.
“After falling and stuff, she maybe was sweating and nauseated or whatever, and they put her on the COVID floor,” explained Browne.
When she arrived at the hospital, further cat scans revealed more cancer in Jukes’ neck.
An infection in her neck prompted antibiotics. According to the family, a week later, a test for COVID-19 came back positive.
“So then we’re thinking… this is it. Because we heard all the stories on the news about all these old people dying, and needing ventilators,” said Browne.
“My sister and I, oh my God, we spent so many hours bawling our eyes out, thinking we’re never going to see her again.”
Jukes, at that point, was alone in the hospital due to visitor restrictions, with dementia worsened even more.
Because of this, the sisters were extremely worried their mother wouldn’t regularly eat, or go to the bathroom.
“So once she got diagnosed with COVID, we thought sure, she was a goner. And then they put her on oxygen, and then we’re really thinking… she’s never going to come out of this,” said Browne.
Amazingly, Browne explained, after two weeks of being on oxygen, they managed to take Jukes off of it.
Her health at this point was rapidly declining. She lost the ability to feed herself, and nurses took over this responsibility.
But the 86-year-old was resilient; six weeks later, after multiple tests, Jukes’ tests for COVID-19 came back negative.
“My God, she overcame that,” said Browne. “She is so strong willed.”
On Sunday, May 17, Jukes came home to Bobcaygeon.
“No, you don’t have to panic thinking your loved one is going to die in the hospital all by themselves, because they could get over it,” said Browne. “There’s a lot of factors I guess, but I mean, she’s so strong-willed, there was no way she was dying.
“When my mom’s time comes to go, I think she should be carried off in a golden chariot… she’s been through so much in her lifetime.”
Public Health Ontario has not yet confirmed this information. The Western News has reached out to the health authority for comment.