Emma Burkey, who last month underwent multiple brain surgeries for rare blood clots associated with the Johnson &Johnson vaccine, is now speaking in full sentences and standing with assistance as part of a recovery that her mother describes as miraculous.
The 18-year-old Las Vegas woman has been discharged from a hospital in Loma Linda, California, to an acute rehab facility in that area, family spokesman Bret Johnson said on Tuesday.
“Maybe three weeks ago, her parents wondered if she was going to be in a vegetative state for the rest of her life and be confined to a wheelchair or to a bed,” said Johnson, president and founder of The Hastening, a local ministry where Emma’s father, Russ, serves as a volunteer.
“She is getting a lot better. She’s been working really, really, really hard at her rehab” in grueling physical therapy sessions two or three times each day.
Her voice is growing stronger after a tracheostomy tube in her throat was removed. Her memory is good. During a recent visit, Johnson observed her recite the beginning of the Gettysburg Address at her father’s request.
She can bear her full weight on her legs to stand with assistance. She can swallow pills on her own, allowing a feeding tube to be removed.
Emma’s mother, Kathy, describes her improvement as miraculous in a May 14 post on a GoFundMe fundraising page established for the family.
“I cannot begin to convey the emotions that I have experienced the past 43 days,” she wrote on the site. “On Easter weekend, we came so very close to losing Emma. Since that time, our journey has been nothing short of a miracle from God.”
When Emma was airlifted to Loma Linda Hospital from St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena campus, the situation was “very, very, very dire,” Johnson said.
Emma’s case was one of six that prompted federal regulators on April 13 to halt the use of the Johnson &Johnson vaccine to review reports of rare but serious brain clots after getting the shot. The pause has been lifted, with regulators saying the benefit of the vaccine outweighs the potential risk.
The St. Rose medical team suspected she was experiencing a side effect in connection to the vaccine and contacted regulators.
Emma’s improvement is such that it appears she will be coming home directly from the California rehab facility, rather than be transferred to another rehab center in Southern Nevada, which was the initial plan.
The construction company her mother works for has offered to create ramps for a wheelchair and to widen doorways at the family’s home.
A recent photo of Emma posted online shows a bright-eyed, smiling young woman sitting up — an earlier milestone — in a medical setting. Her spirits, Johnson said, can depend on the day.
“I think that there’s some days where she’s sad because she has lost her senior year,” he said. “She should be graduating.”
Her parents are encouraged by her progress, having risen from “rock bottom, in survival mode,” he said.
“Yes, there are many days that we have cried with and for Emma, but we never stopped seeking God and believing in the miracles that he would work in and through my precious girl,” her mother wrote.
Emma’s parents remain with her in Loma Linda, staying at a Ronald McDonald house.
Donors — mostly strangers, according to Johnson — have contributed nearly $56,000 on Emma’s GoFundMe page. The money will be used for expenses such as a vehicle that can accommodate a wheelchair and other costs related to her recovery.