ATLANTA - Kayla Lucas had just returned to St. John's University in New York after coming home to Georgia for spring break in March, when a dangerous new respiratory virus swept through New York.
The school told students to pack up and go home again.
"My dad had picked me up from my uncle's house and we had travelled from New York in the car because my parents were already nervous about taking the plane," Lucas remembers.
No one knew much about the coronavirus back in March.
Kayla Lucas and her dad just knew they needed to get home to Georgia.
"I usually help my dad drive, because I've been driving for a long time, but I could not even keep my eyes awake while driving," she says.
It wasn't until the 21-year-old got back to her mother's house in the Atlanta area, that the fever and shortness of breath set in.
Lucas isolated in a spare room and started calling area hospitals.
"They said, 'We're sorry, you cannot come here unless you've been referred by a doctor," Lucas says. "The next hospital I called, they're like, 'Please do not come here. You will be denied; we will not treat you.'"
At the time, only the sickest COVID-19 patients, those requiring hospitalization, were being tested for COVID-19.
Lucas says she called 3 hospitals and 4 medical hotlines, including one set up a Morehouse Healthcare, where a triage nurse put her in touch with Dr.Nicola Chin.
"This is my childhood pediatrician, and she right away knew something was off," Lucas says. "She heard my voice and was, like, 'Kayla, why do you sound like that?' And I said, 'I am not doing well. I cannot breathe. I feel like an elephant is sitting on me.'"
Chin, a veteran pediatrician, remembers feeling dread, sensing Kayla had COVID-19.
"For me it was fear," she says. "It was fear for my patient. It was, 'Oh, my gosh. Here we go, and how are we going to walk this?'"
Dr. Chin knew Lucas suffers from asthma, which could exacerbate her symptoms.
Kayla's mother was struggling trying to find an asthma inhaler, which proved complicated because she needed authorization from her daughter’s out-of-state insurance plan.
"Dr. Chen advocated for me down to the very last moment," Lucas says. "She was on the phone with my mom. She was, like, 'I'm going to speak to the pharmacist. I'm going to work this all out. I will call on behalf of you.' She just did not give up."
After speaking with Chin, a pharmacist agreed to stay late and wait for Kayla's mother to arrive.
The medication helped, but the next three weeks were a struggle.
"We just continuously checked in, checked in, checked in," Dr. Chin says.
Kayla Lucas pulled through.
"I get, I'm getting emotional about it, but was just so good to see a positive outcome," Dr. Chin says.
And Lucas, who has since lost her 75-year old grandmother to the virus, is grateful to Dr. Chin and the other healthcare workers, who've stepped up for their patients in this pandemic.
"It says to me that they're not willing to give up on people, that they're going to fight for another person as if it were their own family member," Lucas says. "For me, that means the world."