Grateful Bonds: Autumn’s Story

By: Lisa Lombardo

Passavant Celebration Walk

A few days after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national emergency, 20-year-old Autumn DelMonaco and her family embarked on a 152-day journey that left them grateful for UPMC Passavant.

No one in the DelMonaco house was feeling well that March weekend, but when Autumn spiked a high fever and began struggling to breathe, the Sharpsville family sought emergency care at UPMC Horizon. The teams there stabilized Autumn, immediately suspecting COVID-19, and determined a higher level of tertiary care was urgently needed. Autumn and her mom, Lori, were taken by ambulance to UPMC Passavant.

Autumn’s UPMC Passavant Journey

Autumn hugs programmatic nurse specialist Maggie Lattanzio.

When the DelMonacos arrived at the UPMC Passavant ICU, the care teams informed Lori that Autumn’s life-threatening critical condition would require immediate ventilation. Furthermore, all hospital support person visits were restricted at that time, making it impossible for Lori to stay by her daughter’s side.

As a young woman with Down syndrome, Autumn had relied on her mother’s support her whole life. It would be 27 days before Autumn could see her parents face-to-face again.

For much of her five-month stay, Autumn was in the ICU, initially in the dedicated COVID-19 area. She was on and off the ventilator, in and out of consciousness, with hopeful ups and scary downs.

Grateful Bonds

UPMC Passavant staff celebrate Autumn’s discharge home.

Pulmonary critical care specialist Dr. David Rice, programmatic nurse specialist Maggie Lattanzio, and countless others from multiple departments and disciplines at UPMC Passavant were there from the beginning of Autumn’s journey.

“In those first 27 days, the UPMC Passavant team called us every day,” said Lori. “They were always forward-thinking and working through what Autumn would need before she was ready for it all. The staff cared for her, and they cared about her.

Autumn formed a beautiful bond with her care providers. ICU nurses organized a “High School Musical” marathon for her, respiratory therapists played cards and colored and the inpatient rehabilitation team helped Autumn stand for the first time during her recovery.

Heading Home

On August 19, more than 150 masked UPMC Passavant employees lined the hospital’s main corridor to celebrate Autumn’s discharge home.

“Autumn was in the right place, at the right time, with the right people,” said Lori. “For someone who lost it all, UPMC Passavant helped her get it back. They saw her as a person, and she developed relationships with them. She felt safe.”

Autumn celebrates “Ice Cream Friday” following her battle with COVID-19.

As a result, Autumn is back to living with her family, and she said goodbye to the walker she once required to move throughout her home. In many ways, Autumn has returned to her pre-COVID functional level — and then some.

“We have noticed that since Autumn has been home, she is more conversational,” Lori said. “Her school speech pathologist also noticed this to the point of removing social communication as one of her individualized education plan goals.”

Autumn’s family and providers think this is a result of Autumn being placed in a situation where she needed to communicate for herself with a group of people about things she’d never experienced before. “Maybe this stimulation had the effect of an increase in her language development,” commented Lori.

Since she returned home from the hospital in August, the DelMonacos celebrate Autumn’s weekly accomplishments with “Ice Cream Friday.” That simple, sweet reward reminds them how much they have to be grateful for this holiday season.