Saving Colleen

Coming back from the brink in a battle with H1N1


Colleen Newell, a third-year student at UCSB, faced the pressures and non-stop stress that go hand-in-hand with being a college student. Rigorous courses, constant deadlines and lack of sleep made it difficult for her to get the rest she needed when she was sick


“I was under so much stress that first quarter (fall 2009),” recalled Colleen, who is majoring in International Studies and dreams of working for the United Nations one day.


With all that she was taking on, Colleen found little time to tend to her health— until she faced a near-death encounter with the H1N1 virus.


For at least two months during the fall quarter, Colleen had been battling persistent cold symptoms and was taking antibiotics. Instead of getting better, however, she came down with mononucleosis.



On the afternoon of October 21, 2009, feeling sicker than ever, Colleen sought help at the university’s student health center. The nurse told her she had severe pneumonia and needed to go immediately to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital’s Emergency Department. An X-ray at the hospital revealed something much more serious. Medical staff suspected a severe case of the H1NI virus.


“She was in dire straits and was on the verge of respiratory failure,” said Dr. Jeffrey Sager, a pulmonary specialist, describing Colleen’s condition the afternoon she entered the hospital.




Colleen and Jodi were special guests at the Tiara Ball event that supports critical care services at SBCH.



She was admitted to the Medical Intensive Care Unit where she was put into a sedated state, and a ventilator and breathing tube were put in place to do the work her body could not do on its own.


In a fortunate twist of fate, a new anti-viral therapy to fight H1NI had just been approved by the Centers for Disease Control. With the help of infectious disease specialist Dr. Steve Hosea, the new therapy was rushed to Cottage within 24 hours so that it could be given to Colleen.


She was in the MICU for two weeks in an induced coma and breathing with the ventilator’s help.


But the ventilator can create high pressure buildup in the lungs, requiring doctors and other staff to remain constantly at the patient’s side providing care and monitoring progress.


It was an emotional roller-coaster ride for her mother, Jodi, and other family members, who traveled to Santa Barbara from all over the country to sit at Colleen’s bedside during her darkest days.


“My walk into the ICU each day was so difficult. I didn’t know what to expect,” Jodi recalled. She received comfort from the wide range of resources and support Cottage provided.


After two weeks, Colleen was well enough to be taken off the ventilator and slowly was brought back to consciousness. She was able to go home within a week after leaving the ICU.


Her story is a testament to the collaboration that occurs in the medical ICU between all staff involved— nursing, respiratory therapists, nutritionists, and more. Without access to that kind of support, Colleen likely would not have survived, say her physicians.


Jodi can’t say enough good things about the people who saved her daughter: “They were just wonderful, caring, loving, concerned, knowledgeable, educated women and men. It was just a great team of people,” she beamed. “We received so much human loving kindness from people who didn’t even know us.”


Colleen echoes these sentiments, even though she can’t remember her time in the hospital. She has walked away with a deeper appreciation of life, and the importance of protecting her health.


“I’ve really learned how precious life is. I hate to be cliché, but you just can’t sweat the small stuff,” Colleen emphasized. “You need to take care of yourself when you’re sick. Make the time to do this, and don’t stress about it. Stress is a killer.”








"It’s always a reward to see someone recover from such a serious condition. Those are the gems for us."

— Ernest Rojas
Respiratory Care Clinical Specialist

"I remember her being admitted. It was a very emotional and scary moment, and we were all taking precautions [to prevent H1N1 infection]. We had just received the new ventilation masks. It was very tense when we found out her age [part of the high-risk group for H1N1]. Everyone was working together for Colleen and also providing support for her mom, who was so scared and fearful. To see someone go from near death to a full recovery is so amazing. Seeing Colleen at the Tiara Ball was unbelievable. I was watching her dance and thinking: she’s a living miracle."

— Zubeda Khan
MICU Unit Coordinator


"We had a bond with her family. We were learning through them who Colleen was. My favorite part was seeing Colleen and her mom at the Tiara Ball. She was healthy and doing well."

— Danielle Fiore

"Empathy was a big factor…Colleen was so young and many of the staff who worked with her have children in college. As with all patients we wanted a good outcome. And it happened."

— Luisa McLoughlin
Clinical Social Worker


Read other stories from the Summer 2010 Cottage Magazine here.