Woman says severe COVID-19 infection changed her life

Here's what we know

One year ago this month, Rotceh Pena was surprised when she was diagnosed with a severe COVID infection.

“You don’t even realize that you are heavy, that you are obese, that you’re not healthy,” Pena said. “You feel like you’re strong because you’re doing everything that you can do.”

While in the hospital, doctors informed her she had diabetes, which she wasn’t aware of. But since then, Pena said she has improved her health and made a big recovery.

She’s lost 55 pounds, gotten off medication, and celebrated her daughter’s wedding.

The year of transformation hasn’t come without hardships though as she’s also been grieving the loss of a brother and caring for her special needs daughter. Still, she considers the big ups and downs of 2021 to be a “blessing.”

“I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned how strong I am and how you can overcome a lot of things,” Pena said.

She said she’s lucky to be one of the almost 574,000 COVID recoveries in the Houston area.

Dr. David Persse with Houston Health Authority estimates about 25% of our area still has no natural or vaccine immunity.

“That may be a small percentage of people requiring hospitalization, but if that’s of a really big part of our population, we’re gonna put our hospitals under a crunch again,” Persse said while explaining why Houston may be in trouble if another surge hits.

He said patients need a vaccine and a booster right away as cases of Omicron are on the rise.

As of Friday, Omicron cases have been detected in 25 states. There are also five new cases across Houston, Fort Bend and Galveston.

Pena is depending on natural immunity and a better lifestyle to keep her out of the hospital. She said she still has reservations about getting a vaccine.

“I’m not an anti-vaxxer, you know? I believe in vaccines. I am just so scared of having the symptoms of that again,” Pena explained.

She said she’s so traumatized by the previous infection, she never wants to feel one symptom ever again. That’s exactly why doctors encourage her to get a vaccine. However, she said she’s waiting to see if her natural antibodies stay strong.

“I have actually been getting my blood tested all the way up until the end of October and I still had antibodies,” Pena said. “I have another blood test coming in January. So, I will test again then, and if I don’t have antibodies, then I probably will then have to reevaluate myself and say, ‘OK, you know, it’s time.”

Nationwide, there are 120,000 new cases every day.

Persse said the vaccine may not protect against all infections, but it’s the best chance at protecting against hospitalizations and death.