'It’s a hope’: York County paramedic beats COVID-19

YORK COUNTY, N.C. — 63-year-old Pearl Lemieux walked out of a rehab center in Rock Hill Thursday afternoon trying to hold back her emotions.

“It makes me emotional thinking I have so much love and support around me,” she said.

That support came from the roar of a large crowd that stood outside Encompass Health rehab hospital waiting for her.

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Lemieux fell ill with COVID-19 in the first week of April.

She spent 24 days at Piedmont Medical Center, 14 of them on a ventilator. The community rallied behind her, many prayed, and her EMS family encouraged her during every trying day.

Reporters and camera crews were told she’d come outside Thursday in a wheelchair, but she walked out on her own, and into a waiting SUV.

“When I came here I was so weak I couldn’t stand, and I just walked out the door. So in a week they did that for me,” Lemieux said.

Lined up on the roadside, was her escort. At least twenty ambulances from all over the place. EMS crews brought ambulances from different companies, cities and states to celebrate her recovery.

Wendy Enright is an EMT, who works with a different ambulance company. She knows Lemieux and made posters to hold up as she rode by, to show her she’s an encouragement to her EMS family.

“To see her pull through it’s a hope for all of us out here on the frontlines. It’s a hope,”Enright said. “We’re all scared. We’re out here on the frontlines. We don’t know what we’re going into a lot of times.”

Lemieux is the first COVID-19 patient to finish rehab at Encompass Health. They quarantined off a whole section of the building for her, and the staff who worked with her every day. There is a second patient with the disease who’s still in recovery there.

Lemieux is still weak, but is getting stronger. She said she believes she made it, because of the support of so many.

“I know I’m here because of God and all the prayers I received. I’m just so grateful and thankful,” she said.

Her 8 days of rehab weren’t easy. It wasn’t just about getting her up and walking again either, but eating and swallowing, talking and there was cognitive rehab too.

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She aced that program, not only boosting her confidence, but all those who cared for her over the last month.

Lemieux did have a message for others about the nature of COVID-19.

“I’ve seen enough death and enough sadness. This stuff is no joke. We have to take it serious,” she said.