Red carpet homecoming for young COVID-19 survivor on brink of death after 54 days in hospital

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A young coronavirus survivor is back home after spending 54 days in the hospital, 22 of which were on a ventilator. Now she's back home - and dancing!

Yuli Diaz spent her 23rd birthday in the hospital fighting the COVID-19.

"Just being back with my family. Really great they didn't have to... that this is what I have, a celebration instead of something worse," said Diaz, who has diabetes. "Just thankful that I'm here ready to party."

Since she didn't get a celebration, Diaz's family held a party complete with Mariachis, a red carpet, balloons, wine glasses, wine, and according to her grandpa, tequila. They waited weeks to celebrate, especially after they say she came eerily close to dying.

"I know at one point the ventilator was doing 70% of my breathing. I only did 30%. So it is really scary," said Diaz, who is studying to be an X-ray technician. "I know from the floor I was on a lot of people didn't make it out. I was one of the few."

Diaz got a severe headache and fever on April 14, according to her mom. Her family says she was admitted to Loyola University Medical Center later that month.

Since she's studying to be a X-ray technician, Diaz said she saw "familiar faces" at Loyola. Her medical training, which she hopes to complete in May, gave her some basic medical knowledge as well.

"The knowledge I had at that time made it easier for me to understand, and I wasn't as scared as when they would tell me things," she said.

But her family worried she was on the brink of death too.

"It got to the point where we were allowed to say our farewells. Things got...she doesn't know how bad it got," said Denise Sandoval, Diaz's aunt.

But DIaz eventually improved, even celebrating her 23rd birthday in the hospital on June 2.

"I got a popsicle on my birthday. I was barely starting to be able to eat and they were like, 'What do you want?' I'm like, 'I just want a popsicle, something cold,'" she recalled.

After time at Loyola Medical Center, Diaz was transferred to the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, where she learned to walk, drink, eat and talk again. She spent nearly three weeks recovering.

When she was discharged Thursday, Diaz's family threw a huge party in Cicero, complete with a parade and tears.

"This moment here with my family is great," Diaz said. "I originally didn't want anything and then at the end I was just crying like a baby. It means a lot for my family being here, some neighbors."

Diaz plans to spend the next few months cautiously recovering, warning that COVID-19 can impact anyone.

"You really have to take is seriously at any age," she said.

Now she is focused on looking ahead to complete her goals.

"I want to finish school and travel still," she said, choking back tears. "And be around my family. I just want to let everyone out there know that you can fight it, you can win it, like me, back out here dancing again."
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