Kentucky’s first COVID-19 patient reflects on last year

Harrison County, one year after first COVID case
Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 5:39 PM EST
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CYNTHIANA, Ky. (WKYT) - On March 6, 2020 when Kentucky learned it had its first known case of COVID-19, many were still unaware of this new virus.

While we waited to learn more about it, one Harrison County family was already living the nightmare.

For the first time, WKYT is hearing from the 28-year-old Cynthiana woman who was the first of tens of thousands of Kentuckians to be diagnosed with and survive coronavirus.

“It was like going to sleep and then waking up into a different reality,” said Julia Donohue.

This time last year, then 27-year-old Julia Donohue was fighting for her life in the hospital, but soon the entire state would learn just what she was fighting-- coronavirus.

“But now we do have the first positive,” said Governor Andy Beshear at the time.

In late February, Donohue said she felt sick, had a headache, fever and flu-like symptoms, but it quickly got worse.

“The next day I was out of breath, couldn’t breathe and had to go to the hospital because it was hard to get around. I would say it really went downhill March 1-2 and after I went to the hospital a second time, it’s hard to remember a lot of the stuff because my oxygen level was so low,” said Donohue.

She spent 13 days in the hospital, four of those on a ventilator. She remembers being told her diagnosis and like a lot of people, had never even heard of coronavirus.

“At that point I didn’t even know what COVID was, when he said that I said ‘I don’t know what that is, what does that mean,’” said Donohue.

While Donohue was diagnosed as the first confirmed case in Kentucky, the virus was likely already circulating in her community. As a cake decorator at the Cynthiana Walmart she was around people everyday and later would learn within her small rural church there were also cases. She wasn’t worried about how she got it, but rather who she may have unknowingly exposed to it.

“I was worried that I was going to get my husband sick and his sister and all of my nieces and the people I’m around daily, my friends at work. I was just worried about every single one of them,” said Donohue.

Donohue, a transplant to Kentucky, says her small community of Harrison Co. rallied around her, and believes positivity and prayers helped her fight off COVID.

“The pastor and his wife came while they didn’t know I had COVID yet, they came while I was sedated and anointed me and prayed over me and I think that really helped. All the prayers helped,” said Donohue.

In those early days of learning about COVID 19, the unknown was frightening, but Donohue wasn’t alone.

“My husband was supportive the whole time, strong for me, he was just there holding my hand and making me feel good, telling me it was going to be okay,” said Donohue.

Now a year later, Donohue has celebrated another birthday, is back to doing what she loves decorating cakes and has a new outlook on life.

“It definitely did make me look at life, like it could end tomorrow. I didn’t appreciate the little things. But I’m really blessed to be able to continue life,” said Donohue.

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