After near-death battle with COVID, Rockville woman starts nonprofit to help others

Maria Young of Rockville, Maryland, spent over three months at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, trying to recover from a strong bout of COVID-19. (Courtesy Maria Young)
Maria Young was able to make a full recovery with the help of Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, also known as ECMO. It is a blood oxygenating machine that removes a patient’s blood, adds oxygen and restores the blood to the body. (Courtesy Maria Young)
Maria Young decided to create Maria’s Miracle, a nonprofit devoted to expanding ECMO treatments. (Courtesy Maria Young)

A Rockville, Maryland, woman credits luck and the world’s best medical care for her survival from a near-fatal case of COVID-19.

Now, nearly a year after she first became ill and after months in intensive care at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, 42-year-old Maria Young, of Rockville, is turning her attention to helping others.

“I never thought in a million years … that I was going to be in that small percentage that got such a hard case of COVID,” said Young.

It was Oct. 2020, before there was a COVID-19 vaccine, when Young became infected.

“I got to a point where I was just thinking, I couldn’t possibly feel any worse,” said Young. “My head hurt so bad, I could barely get up to go to the bathroom and I called 911. My oxygen (level) was at 40, where we should be seeing upper 90s.”

She spent nearly two weeks in the intensive care unit of Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. But the oxygen treatments were failing to help.

“It wasn’t enough, so mid-November I was sedated, intubated and transferred to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore,” said Young.

Her friends planned for her death. Thanksgiving and Christmas passed and the world welcomed the New Year as Young struggled to stay alive. Finally, in February, she started to recover.

At Johns Hopkins, Young was treated with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, also known as ECMO. It is a blood-oxygenating machine that removes a patient’s blood, adds oxygen and returns it to the body.

“I would not have survived without ECMO,” Young said.

“ECMO is a heart-lung bypass machine, so when the ventilator isn’t providing enough support to your lungs or your heart, you can be placed on ECMO … essentially, it gave my lungs time to rest and recover from the damage done by COVID.”

But not all hospitals are equipped to treat patients with ECMO.

“Less than 10% of American hospitals have ECMO, because it’s incredibly resource-intensive. The machine itself is not terribly expensive, in comparison to other medical equipment, it’s really the specialists. You need a respiratory therapist, you need doctors specialized in ECMO,” said Young.

Young hopes others can benefit from the lifesaving treatment, so she established Maria’s Miracle.

“I’ve always been a person of action, I’ve always wanted to help people, and now I want to help people even more,” Young said.

The nonprofit she’s established is devoted to expanding ECMO treatments. It hopes to fund a training-fellowship at Johns Hopkins in critical care medicine and ECMO.

After spending months in intensive care with her family sometimes mystified by the course of her treatment, Maria’s Miracle is developing resource materials for family members whose loved ones are in intensive care.

The materials, including a glossary of terms, intend to answer questions and help families cope with the stress and challenges faced when a loved one is in the ICU.

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Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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