‘I was disappointed, I left the quadriplegic ICU and today I run all day at the events I produce’ – Marie Claire Magazine

Claudia Sayuri Kojima in August 2022 photo (Photo: Personal Archive)

“I’m a chef and entrepreneur in the gastronomy area. My husband, Flávio, is also a chef and we worked together when the pandemic started. In fact, we worked so hard that I didn’t even realize something so serious was happening. At the restaurant, I had contact with a lot of people. And, I don’t know exactly how or when, but I ended up getting infected.

It was March 2020, and we didn’t even know we needed to wear a mask and gel alcohol. After Carnival, when businesses began to close their doors, we locked ourselves at home, as instructed by Anvisa. That’s when I started to feel weird. I thought it was my allergic rhinitis attacked, and I started medicating myself. But unlike the other crises, I didn’t get better. On the contrary, he felt more and more tired. So I went for a CT scan with a doctor friend of my mother-in-law. When he saw the exam, he took a step back. ‘I think you have covid,’ he said. I was scared, but the worst was yet to come: ‘Your lungs are 30% compromised’.

I was a little numb, I didn’t know what to expect from this illness. He told me to go home, isolate myself, and come back in two days for another CT scan. I spent the weekend lying down, I couldn’t eat or shower. I felt as if the air didn’t enter my body. I arrived for the new exam even worse. Terrified, the doctor said, ‘Your lungs are 70% compromised.’

Claudia Sayuri Kojima and her son Arthur (Photo: Personal Archive)

Hospitalization was supposed to be immediate, but I was stubborn. If I had to be hospitalized, it would be in Mogi das Cruzes (SP), where I was born. ‘If I die, I die close to my family,’ I thought. The next morning my sister, who is a physical therapist, called me. She said emphatically: ‘Either you go to the nearest hospital, or maybe you don’t have time’.

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On March 30, 2020, I was admitted to Hospital Emílio Ribas, specialized in infectology. I went straight to the ICU. A covid test confirmed the diagnosis: I was really one of the first infected in Brazil. Without much idea of ​​what was happening, I received nurses every two hours to measure my oxygenation.

On April 4, the news that she feared most arrived: she would have to be intubated, and then she would go into an induced coma. My son Arthur would be 6 the next day, and I wouldn’t be there. But I accepted intubation, there was nothing I could do. It wasn’t until the process began that the penny dropped. ‘Wait two more minutes’, she repeated fearfully to the team, as if she could postpone the unavoidable.
Two weeks later, I tested again and I was no longer with covid. But my ordeal was just beginning.

“Convinced that I couldn’t resist, the doctors called my husband in for a conversation. They asked him to prepare our son for the worst”

When they went to unclog me, I had what the doctors thought was a stroke. With my brain swollen, they decided to keep me intubated and performed a tracheostomy. It was 52 days in the deepest coma there is. I had three arrhythmias and on the third my heart reached 200 beats. I almost left. As the team did not know what had an effect, I became a study tool. I took every medicine imaginable, and as a result, my liver was compromised. So I had to do 12 dialysis and three blood transfusions.

Claudia Sayuri Kojima (Photo: Personal Archive)

Claudia Sayuri Kojima with her husband, Flávio, and their son, Arthur, during his recovery (Photo: Personal Archive)

Convinced that I would not be able to resist, the doctors called my husband in for a conversation. He was asked to prepare our son for the worst. They thought it unlikely that I would get out of there alive. Then I had a hospital infection with a very high fever. They were about to throw in the towel, but they didn’t give up on me. At that moment, they took the action that would be the beginning of the end. They left me in a cold room to cool my body, where babies with a high fever are treated for a maximum of a day. I stayed three or four, but I finally reacted. I went back to the ICU.

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A few days later I opened my eyes during an exam. She was awake, but she was clueless. It was like my brain was completely disconnected from my body. They called Flávio again, but the news wasn’t that much better. I would probably return home one day, but very different from what I came in. Maybe vegetating and indefinitely.
From there, a work of stimulation began for me to return. The doctors did tests, messed with me. But I didn’t answer. My family would send voice messages for me to listen. Until one Sunday, Mother’s Day, I heard a voice far away asking my son’s name. Somehow, that woke me up. I looked at the doctor and I could see her celebrating with the team: ‘She’s seeing us’, she said. I burst into tears. And I cried like a baby.

My mind went back and forth for the rest of the stay. He alternated moments of consciousness and unconsciousness. Throughout the coma, I remember there were always two people with me. Neither good nor bad, but who were there all the time and were not hospital staff. For me, it was like I was living a parallel life. I ‘went’ to several places, I even saw myself in the morgue that is in front of the hospital. I looked out the window of that morbid place and saw Flávio and some friends on the street. I begged them to get me out of there. At other times, they tried to keep me alive in a room where dead people were.

“After 65 days in the hospital, I was finally released. But I didn’t move anything from the neck down and nobody knew if I would walk again”

I’ve always been a spiritist, but I came out in religion just before covid. During my coma, Flávio would go to the Spiritist Center to participate in prayers for me. There they said I was fine and didn’t want to go back. But what I understood later is that, for me, I had forgotten that I was in a coma, and I was somewhere else, living other things – in fact like in a parallel reality. I thought I was going crazy. It was desperate. A mixture of spiritual experience with psychological alteration of someone who is returning from a very strong sedation.

While I was hospitalized, Flávio went to the hospital every day. Unable to see me, he stayed at the door to receive news. And he had to stop working to take care of me and our son.
On June 3, after 65 days in the hospital, I was finally discharged. Only I didn’t move anything from the neck down, and no one knew if I would ever walk again. Flávio came to pick me up very early. ‘Will I ever be able to drive?’, I asked on the way out. I thought that if I became paraplegic it would be great, because I know that there are adapted cars. But quadriplegic, no. In fact, what I wanted was to have the feeling of freedom.

Claudia Sayuri Kojima with her husband, Flávio, and their son, Arthur (Photo: Personal Archive)

Claudia Sayuri Kojima with her husband, Flávio, and their son, Arthur (Photo: Personal Archive)

The way home was difficult. I felt very weak, we had to stop a few times. I weighed 40 kilos, 20 less than when I was hospitalized, and I was wearing a diaper. My husband even asked if I wanted to go back to the hospital, but I didn’t even consider doing that. I was missing my son. She had spoken to him for the first time just two days before discharge.

We got home and Arthur wouldn’t even let me out of the car. He ran, hugged me and laid on my lap. He threw himself on top of me, who cried and repeated: ‘I love you, I love you’. The impact of seeing me in that situation also left its mark on him. My son became anxious and started sleeping with me every night, afraid I would leave. He helped take care of me, pushed my wheelchair, and was amused that I was in diapers. For a while, I had to receive food in the mouth of Flávio, who cleaned and bathed me. With a patience that thrilled.

The week after discharge, I started my rehabilitation at Santa Casa, all through the SUS. I was surprised to see how amazing the Brazilian system is, with so many wonderful people. It is because of them that I am here today. For the dedication of everyone, who never gave up on me.
I managed to get on my feet for real and take my first steps at the end of September, infinitely faster than the doctors’ most optimistic predictions. To this day I cry when I see the video of my brief walk. During treatment, I tried not to think about tomorrow. Just did what had to be done. Unhurried. This helped a lot in the speedy recovery. But not only. I was happy. Riding in a car and looking at the sky was, for me, a gift. There was no room for bad thoughts.

To recover the movements of the hands, he played with clay with Arthur. Until I got tired and decided to make Spanish croquetas with my husband. He did and I rolled. We started selling on the internet and, in addition to liking the recipe, people bought it to help us. Thus, between one order and another, I gained movement and gradually returned to action. I started to accept some jobs, a party here, a dinner there, even taking on big events. But I don’t ever want to work as intensely as I used to, when I spent at least ten hours in the restaurant. I want more time for myself.

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The doctors discovered that what I had was not a stroke, but a cerebral encephalitis, which left a small piece of the midbrain necrotic. So today, I have the weakest memory. Also, I get tired a lot faster, physically and mentally. I believe that if I hadn’t caught covid, something else that would have made me put a brake on life would have happened. Now I can see a bright side in all of this. I’m a much more centered person who doesn’t keep things to himself. Recently, I went back to Emílio Ribas and the doctors told me that they saved a lot of people thanks to the experiments they did on my body.

I’m involved in all the logistics of our new establishment, a wine house. We also have a buffet and Flávio is the executive chef of a group of restaurants. But I no longer work at the pace I used to. I don’t think so much about the future either, I learned to live in the present. I want to travel again, visit countries I don’t know, have a balanced life again – both in health and financially. But I think what I really want is not to be afraid. I believe I experienced a miracle. Now I just want to be happy.”

Claudia Sayuri Kojima (Photo: Personal Archive)

Claudia Sayuri Kojima (Photo: Personal Archive)

The article is in Portuguese

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