Dear paperfolders, 
The origami is in the final photo, but the whole story is important to read. 

To all the medical workers around the world, thank you!

Karen Reeds
Princeton Public Library Origami Group (on hold until the library re-opens)
Affiliate of Origami USA,

Two Women Fell Sick From the Coronavirus. One Survived.
By Sui-Lee Wee and Vivian WangMarch 13, 2020
The young mothers didn’t tell their children they had the coronavirus. Mama was 
working hard, they said, to save sick people.

Instead, Deng Danjing and Xia Sisi were fighting for their lives in the same 
hospitals where they worked, weak from fever and gasping for breath. Within a 
matter of weeks, they had gone from healthy medical professionals on the front 
lines of the epidemic in Wuhan, China, to coronavirus patients in critical 

The world is still struggling to fully understand the new virus, its symptoms, 
spread and sources. For some, it can feel like a common cold. For others, it is 
a deadly infection that ravages the lungs and pushes the immune system into 
overdrive, destroying even healthy cells. The difference between life and death 
can depend on the patient’s health, age and access to care — although not 

The virus has infected more than 132,000 globally. The vast majority of cases 
have been mild, with limited symptoms. But the virus’s progression can be 
quick, at which point the chances of survival plummet. Around 68,000 people 
have recovered, while nearly 5,000 have died.

The fates of Ms. Deng and Dr. Xia reflect the unpredictable nature of a virus 
that affects everyone differently, at times defying statistical averages and 
scientific research.

As the new year opened in China, the women were leading remarkably similar 
lives. Both were 29 years old. Both were married, each with a young child on 
whom she doted.

Ms. Deng, a nurse, had worked for three years at Wuhan No. 7 Hospital, in the 
city where she grew up and where the coronavirus pandemic began. Her mother was 
a nurse there, too, and in their free time they watched movies or shopped 
together. Ms. Deng’s favorite activity was playing with her two pet kittens, 
Fat Tiger and Little White, the second of which she had rescued just three 
months before falling sick.

Before the epidemic, Ms. Deng had promised to take her 5-year-old daughter to 
the aquarium.
Dr. Xia, a gastroenterologist, also came from a family of medical 
professionals. As a young child, she had accompanied her mother, a nurse, to 
work. She joined the Union Jiangbei Hospital of Wuhan in 2015 and was the 
youngest doctor in her department. Her colleagues called her “Little Sisi” or 
“Little Sweetie” because she always had a smile for them. She loved Sichuan hot 
pot, a dish famous for its numbingly spicy broth.

Dr. Xia loved traveling with her family. She had recently visited Wuzhizhou 
Island, a resort destination off the southern coast of China.
When a mysterious new virus struck the city, the women began working long 
hours, treating a seemingly endless flood of patients. They took precautions to 
protect themselves. But they succumbed to the infection, the highly contagious 
virus burrowing deep into their lungs, causing fever and pneumonia. In the 
hospital, each took a turn for the worse.

One recovered. One did not.


Onset of virus & hospitalization

The symptoms came on suddenly.

Dr. Xia had ended her night shift on Jan. 14 when she was called back to attend 
to a patient — a 76-year-old man with suspected coronavirus. She dropped in 
frequently to check in on him.

Five days later, she started feeling unwell. Exhausted, she took a two-hour nap 
at home, then checked her temperature: It was 102 degrees. Her chest felt tight.

A few weeks later, in early February, Ms. Deng, the nurse, was preparing to eat 
dinner at the hospital office, when the sight of food left her nauseated. She 
brushed the feeling aside, figuring she was worn out by work. She had spent the 
beginning of the outbreak visiting the families of confirmed patients and 
teaching them to disinfect their homes.

After forcing down some food, Ms. Deng went home to shower, and then, feeling 
groggy, took a nap. When she woke up, her temperature was 100 degrees.

Fever is the most common symptom of the coronavirus, seen in nearly 90 percent 
of patients. About a fifth of people experience shortness of breath, often 
including a cough and congestion. Many also feel fatigued.

Both women rushed to see doctors. Chest scans showed damage to their lungs, a 
tell-tale sign of the coronavirus that is present in at least 85 percent of 
patients, according to one study.

In particular, Ms. Deng’s CT scan showed what the doctor called ground-glass 
opacities on her lower right lung — hazy spots that indicated fluid or 
inflammation around her airways.

The hospital had no space, so Ms. Deng checked into a hotel to avoid infecting 
her husband and 5-year-old daughter. She sweated through the night. At one 
point, her calf twitched. In the morning, she was admitted to the hospital. Her 
throat was swabbed for a genetic test, which confirmed she had the coronavirus.

Her room in a newly opened staff ward was small, with two cots and a number 
assigned to each one. Ms. Deng was in bed 28. Her roommate was a colleague who 
had also been diagnosed with the virus.

At Jiangbei Hospital, 18 miles away, Dr. Xia was struggling to breathe. She was 
placed in an isolation ward, treated by doctors and nurses who wore protective 
suits and safety goggles. The room was cold.


Day 1, hospitalization begins

When Ms. Deng checked into the hospital, she tried to stay upbeat. She texted 
her husband, urging him to wear a mask even at home, and to clean all their 
bowls and chopsticks with boiling water or throw them out.

Her husband sent a photograph of one of their cats at home. “Waiting for you to 
come back,” he said.

“I think it’ll take 10 days, half a month,” she replied. “Take care of 

There is no known cure for Covid-19, the official name for the disease caused 
by the new coronavirus. So doctors rely on a cocktail of other medicines, 
mostly antiviral drugs, to alleviate the symptoms.

Ms. Deng’s doctor prescribed a regimen of arbidol, an antiviral medicine used 
to treat the flu in Russia and China; Tamiflu, another flu medicine more 
popular internationally; and Kaletra, an HIV medicine thought to block the 
replication of the virus. Ms. Deng was taking at least 12 pills a day, as well 
as traditional Chinese medicine.

Arbidol, an antiviral medication, was prescribed to help alleviate Ms. Deng’s 
Despite her optimism, she grew weaker. Her mother delivered home-cooked food 
outside the ward, but she had no appetite. To feed her, a nurse had to come at 
8:30 each morning to hook her up to an intravenous drip with nutrients. Another 
drip pumped antibodies into her bloodstream, and still another antiviral 

Dr. Xia, too, was severely ill, but appeared to be slowly fighting the 
infection. Her fever had subsided after a few days, and she began to breathe 
more easily after being attached to a ventilator.

Her spirits lifted. On Jan. 25, she told her colleagues she was recovering.

“💪💪💪💪💪💪 I will return to the team soon,” she texted them on WeChat.

“We need you the most,” one of her colleagues responded.

In early February, Dr. Xia asked her husband, Wu Shilei, also a doctor, whether 
he thought she could get off oxygen therapy soon.

“Take it easy. Don’t be too anxious,” he replied on WeChat. He told her that 
the ventilator could possibly be removed by the following week.

“I keep on thinking about getting better soon,” Dr. Xia responded.

There was reason to believe she was on the mend. After all, most coronavirus 
patients recover.

Later, Dr. Xia tested negative twice for the coronavirus. She told her mother 
she expected to be discharged on Feb. 8.


Day 4 to 16 after hospitalization

In the hospital, Ms. Deng’s only contacts were her roommate and the medical 
staff. She added a caption to a photo with her doctor, saying laughter would 
help chase the illness away. Two tests indicated that Dr. Xia was free of the 
virus, but her condition suddenly deteriorated.

By Ms. Deng’s fourth day in the hospital, she could no longer pretend to be 
cheerful. She was vomiting, having diarrhea and relentlessly shivering.

Her fever jumped to 101.3 degrees. Early in the morning on Feb. 5, she woke 
from a fitful sleep to find the medicine had done nothing to lower her 
temperature. She cried. She said she was classified as critically ill.

The next day, she threw up three times, until she was left spitting white 
bubbles. She felt she was hallucinating. She could not smell or taste, and her 
heart rate slowed to about 50 beats per minute.

On a phone call, Ms. Deng’s mother tried to reassure her that she was young and 
otherwise healthy, and that the virus would pass like a bad cold. But Ms. Deng 
feared otherwise. “I felt like I was walking on the edge of death,” she wrote 
in a social media post from her hospital bed the next day.

China defines a critically ill patient as someone with respiratory failure, 
shock or organ failure. Around 5 percent of infected patients became critical 
in China, according to one of the largest studies to date of coronavirus cases. 
Of those, 49 percent died. (Those rates may eventually change once more cases 
are examined around the world.)

While Dr. Xia appeared to be recovering, she was still terrified of dying. 
Testing can be faulty, and negative results don’t necessarily mean patients are 
in the clear.

She asked her mother for a promise: Could her parents look after her 2-year-old 
son if she didn’t make it?

Hoping to dispel her anxiety with humor, her mother, Jiang Wenyan, chided her: 
“He’s your own son. Don’t you want to raise him yourself?”

Dr. Xia also worried about her husband. Over video chat, she urged him to put 
on protective equipment at the hospital where he worked. “She said she would 
wait for me to return safely,” he said, “and go to the frontline again with me 
when she recovered.”

Then came the call. Dr. Xia’s condition had suddenly deteriorated. In the early 
hours of Feb. 7, her husband rushed to the emergency room.

Her heart had stopped.


Day 17 after hospitalization

After being discharged, Ms. Deng briefly got to see her mother, who had been 
working at the hospital during her illness. She then went home to isolate 
herself for two weeks.
In most cases, the body repairs itself. The immune system produces enough 
antibodies to clear the virus, and the patient recovers.

By the end of Ms. Deng’s first week in the hospital, her fever had receded. She 
could eat the food her mother delivered. On Feb. 10, as her appetite returned, 
she looked up photos of meat skewers online and posted them wishfully to social 

On Feb. 15, her throat swab came back negative for the virus. Three days later, 
she tested negative again. She could go home.

Ms. Deng met her mother briefly at the hospital’s entrance. Then, because Wuhan 
remained locked down, without taxis or public transportation, she walked home 

“I felt like a little bird,” she recalled. “My freedom had been returned to me.”

She had to isolate at home for 14 days. Her husband and daughter stayed with 
her parents.

At home, she threw out her clothing, which she had been wearing for her entire 
time in the hospital.

Since then, she has passed the time by playing with her cats and watching 
television. She jokes that she is getting an early taste of retirement. She 
does daily deep breathing exercises to strengthen her lungs, and her cough has 

The Chinese government has urged recovered patients to donate plasma, which 
experts say contains antibodies that could be used to treat the sick. Ms. Deng 
contacted a local blood bank soon after getting home.

She plans to go back to work as soon as the hospital allows it.

“It was the nation that saved me,” she said. “And I think I can pay it back to 
the nation.”


Day 35 after hospitalization

On Dr. Xia’s desk at work, her colleagues left 1,000 paper cranes — a Chinese 
symbol of hope and blessings. Written on the wings was a message: “Rest in 
peace, we will use our lives to continue this relay race and prevail over this 
It was sometime after 3 a.m. on Feb. 7 when Dr. Xia was rushed to intensive 
care. Doctors first intubated her. Then, the president of the hospital 
frantically summoned several experts from around the city, including Dr. Peng 
Zhiyong, head of the department of critical care at Zhongnan Hospital.

They called every major hospital in Wuhan to borrow an extracorporeal membrane 
oxygenation, or Ecmo, machine to do the work of her heart and lungs.

Dr. Xia’s heart started beating again. But the infection in her lungs was too 
severe, and they failed. Her brain was starved of oxygen, causing irreversible 
damage. Soon, her kidneys shut down and doctors had to put her on 
round-the-clock dialysis.

“The brain acts as the control center,” Dr. Peng said. “She couldn’t command 
her other organs, so those organs would fail. It was only a matter of time.”

Dr. Xia slipped into a coma. She died on Feb. 23.

Dr. Peng remains baffled about why Dr. Xia died after she had seemed to 
improve. Her immune system, like that of many health workers, may have been 
compromised by constant exposure to sickness. Perhaps she suffered from what 
experts call a “cytokine storm,” in which the immune system’s reaction to a new 
virus engulfs the lungs with white blood cells and fluid. Perhaps she died 
because her organs were starved of oxygen.

Back at Dr. Xia’s home, her son, Jiabao — which means priceless treasure — 
still thinks his mother is working. When the phone rings, he tries to grab it 
from his grandmother’s hands, shouting: “Mama, mama.”

Her husband, Dr. Wu, doesn’t know what to tell Jiabao. He hasn’t come to terms 
with her death himself. They had met in medical school and were each other’s 
first loves. They had planned to grow old together.

“I loved her very much,” he said. “She’s gone now. I don’t know what to do in 
the future, I can only hold on.”

Sent from my iPhone

Reply via email to