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'Lungs like a 20-year smoker': Covid nightmare for Kiwi nanny to billionaires

Ben Leahy, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 24 Jan 2021, 9:55AM
Helena Power has been battling Covid. Photo / Supplied
Helena Power has been battling Covid. Photo / Supplied

'Lungs like a 20-year smoker': Covid nightmare for Kiwi nanny to billionaires

Ben Leahy, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 24 Jan 2021, 9:55AM

Not even a world in pandemic could halt Helena Power's glamorous, globe-trotting life.

While looking after and teaching the child of a London billionaire, the 26-year-old Kiwi spent much of 2020 boarding private jets to retreats in Ibiza, Switzerland and Australia.

Then she caught Covid-19 in London in December.

Now her damaged lungs resemble those of a 20-year smoker, leaving her so short of breath she can't leave the house. She spends up to 12 hours a day sleeping.

Hospitalised twice, each time she spent the hours beforehand desperately gasping for breath.

By the time the ambulances arrived, she was in dire need of help.

"I wasn't able to stand up or walk. I was very confused," Power said.

Initially she thought being young and fit would be enough to bounce back quickly.

Instead, Auckland-raised Power now thinks her story is a timely reminder to New Zealanders that beyond their charmed borders lies an alternate reality of a pandemic-ravaged world battling a highly infectious new Covid strain.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday warned that the country's new strain of the virus could be more deadly than the original.

It has pushed hospitals to the brink. The National Health Service this week said a coronavirus patient was admitted every 30 seconds.

The young haven't been immune either. Three of Power's healthy, young buddies were struck down at the same time as her.

They were now recovering better than her, but all were still battling exhaustion and most suffered worse initial symptoms.

Power said she had been studiously following health guidelines and trying to avoid the virus.

She had just changed jobs and started with a new family in London before they moved to Qatar.

Leaving Power behind in an apartment fronting London's prestigious Hyde Park, the young Kiwi was waiting for her Qatar visa to come through before jetting off to join them.

Twenty-six-year-old Kiwi Helena power has spent more than a month battling severe effects from Covid. Photo / Supplied

26-year-old Kiwi Helena power has spent more than a month battling severe effects from Covid. Photo / Supplied

But on December 17 she tested positive to Covid.

Her mandatory 10 days' quarantining in her apartment wasn't so bad. She was tired, a little short of breath and had lost her sense of taste and smell.

But then, 14 days after testing positive, she went for a walk with a friend and started "having really bad problems breathing".

After a couple of hours struggling to breathe, her friend called an ambulance.

In hospital, the doctors took x-rays.

"They said my lungs had been damaged from having Covid," Power said.

"Despite being 26 and never having smoked - I don't even drink alcohol - my lungs looked like someone who had smoked for 20 years."

She was later discharged, with instructions to keep taking steroids, try her best to look after herself and was handed an inhaler to puff whenever she needed.

Alone in her apartment in a fog of sleep and exhaustion with no one to check on her, she relied on a friend on Canada, who took it upon themself to order Uber Eats for her every day.

A day or so later, she became sick again and called another ambulance.

Helena Power hiking in Switzerland. Photo / Supplied

Treating her kindly but much the same as earlier, the gist of the doctors' message was don't come back unless you really have to - "if you are dying", Power said.

Virtually all the country's hospitals were at capacity, and Power knew of friends waiting eight to 12 hours for ambulances to arrive.

Luckily, she had an uncle living an hour south of London with his family, who took her in.

She said she was still sleeping long hours, and just moving from room to room was exhausting.

Returning for a recent doctor's check-up, she asked what she could do to get better.

The doctor said medical teams didn't know. They told her her lungs had "forgotten how to work" but were expected to recover in two weeks to three months.

Medics were seeing the same phenomenon in lots of other patients, young people included.

"The doctor said that at the moment health teams were focused on trying to keep people alive," Power said.

Helena Power battling Covid. Photo / Supplied

"Then, once they get to the point where everyone is fine, they can better treat the people with side-effects."

Power's billionaire former employers also suffered.

When the pandemic broke in March, her employer immediately settled on Australia as a safe hideout.

"My boss read statistics about the virus and thought it was time to go, and he got a flight straight away," she said.

"For people like that money wasn't an object, so we just picked a safe country, and he got a massive mansion on a beach in Australia."

They "chilled" there for a couple of months before Europe began to reopen over the Northern Hemisphere summer and the family got on the move again.

"We were flying in private planes, and houses we hired were all private - so for people with enough money you can continue travelling and keep safe."

Ibiza and Switzerland were among the stop-offs.

However, Covid eventually also infected Power's employers, with tragic results for an elderly family member.

Power, meanwhile, was still hoping to recover in time to take up her job in Qatar.

However, her ongoing illness had put that in doubt. She had also managed to secure a place in managed isolation in New Zealand for late February.

The chance to be home with family support had her jumping for joy - if not literally.

"I'm so lucky. I will be home in a month, which will give me enough time to work up to walking to the plane," she said.


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