Patient seen on floor of COVID treatment site in Florida says she was afraid to 'run out of breath'

ByWill McDuffie and Arielle Mitropoulos ABCNews logo
Saturday, August 21, 2021
COVID patient seen on floor of COVID treatment describes experience
Toma Dean said she was afraid to "run out of breath" if she stood for too long at a Jacksonville, Florida, COVID-19 treatment center.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Toma Dean had been in and out of the emergency room for the past two weeks, "extremely sick" with COVID-19, when she arrived at a Jacksonville, Florida, monoclonal antibody treatment center on Wednesday.

Because standing for too long left her feeling breathless, Dean made the decision to lie down on the floor of the makeshift treatment center until her appointment.

"My choices were to stay in and run out of breath and not be able to [receive] the treatment, or sit down on the floor and patiently wait for the line to go through and be able to get the treatment that I need. So I chose to lay down on the floor, and make it through this line," Dean told ABC News on Friday. "If I had chosen to stand up in line, I'd never make it to the treatment. I'd have been back at an ER. So I laid on the floor, until they got wheelchairs over to assist us."

While Dean was waiting, a fellow patient took a photo of her. The image was shared online, and subsequently went viral on social media.

The presence of patients showing severe symptoms caused the city of Jacksonville to scramble to provide more wheelchairs at the antibody sites, an effort city officials disclosed when asked by ABC News about the photo this week.

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A spokesperson for the city confirmed that, according to organizers at the site, Dean was waiting to be treated with Regeneron, and Louie Lopez, who took the photo, told ABC News that staff members eventually "poured" Dean into a wheelchair.

Although her appointment was at noon, Dean said she was not done with her treatment until 4:30 p.m., adding that it was "not a fast process." However, she stressed that the staff at the facility was very supportive and accommodating.

"The picture that's going around online -- it looks terrible, yes, but they were great there. The facility was great," Dean said.

Most of her symptoms have dissipated, said Dean, who was unvaccinated, but she is still struggling with shortness of breath.

"You don't realize how hard it is to breathe. ... I could even tell you all the different things, how I've felt and how sick I've been 12 hours before that picture was taken. I was telling my family, 'I can't do this anymore. I'm giving up,'" Dean said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been a proponent of monoclonal antibodies, touring the state in recent days to encourage people to seek the treatment if they test positive, as many overwhelmed hospitals across the state struggled to meet the needs of the thousands of patients.

"The governor's message is extremely clear. Every time he has ever made a public remark on Regeneron, he has emphasized and reiterated that early treatment is necessary for the best chance of avoiding hospitalization," Christina Pushaw, the governor's press secretary, told ABC News on Thursday.

"We were all concerned for [Dean] after seeing [the photo]," Pushaw added on Friday. A member of the governor's staff reached out to lend support on Friday, Dean and Pushaw both said.

With more than 17,000 patients hospitalized across the state with COVID-19, health officials in Florida have been warning that hospitals are running out of space. According to federal data, there are currently less than 7% of intensive care unit beds available statewide.

The site only opened on Tuesday, but city officials told ABC News that the volume of patients seeking treatment had more than doubled on Wednesday.

Weesam Khoury, a spokesperson from the Florida Department of Health, along with Pushaw, both insisted that the monoclonal antibody sites in Florida are "not overrun" and that the state is "dedicated to providing resources to Floridians that need it."

Khoury said there are patients who do show up extremely sick to the sites, however, protocol suggests that if a patient is already at a point where they need hospital attention, teams will refer them to those services.

Dean said she hopes her story can help other people try to protect themselves from the virus.

"What I hope that picture does is I hope it helps somebody who's just as sick as I was that day, and I hope they get up. If they need me to take them, I'll take them," she said, adding that she now intends to get vaccinated as soon as she is eligible.