‘I didn’t think that COVID could take limbs’

Candice Davis was 30 when she became infected with COVID-19 and had to endure partial amputation of four limbs.
Dec. 1, 2021
Paige Davis holds up a cell phone that shows her daughter, Candice, in a hospital bed in Philadelphia with her arms amputated because of COVID-19.
Paige Davis, an environmental services professional at UCHealth Memorial Hospital, shows her daughter, Candice, whose severe COVID-19 lead to limb amputation at a hospital in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy Paige Davis.

Paige Davis took a job 15 years ago as an environmental services professional at Memorial Hospital. She’s cleaned offices and patient rooms, talking to people who are in beds and always trying to lift their spirits.

Now, the person in the hospital bed – not in Colorado Springs but in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – is her daughter Candice. In early August, the 30-year-old flight attendant for Republic Airways tested positive for COVID-19. Her brother tested positive too, though he had been vaccinated and only experienced cold-like symptoms and a loss of smell and taste.

After two weeks in quarantine with COVID-19 symptoms, Candice said she was burning with fever and experiencing “skipping heartbeats.’’ Candice was taken by ambulance and admitted to the hospital on Aug. 17 in critical condition.

Candice Davis (left), with her mom, Paige Davis, and her brother, Starr, before Candice's COVID lead to amputations.
Candice Davis (left), with her mom, Paige Davis, and her brother, Starr. The photo was a gift to Paige Davis on Mother’s Day. Photo courtesy Paige Davis.

COVID-19, she said, had infected her heart. Her blood pressure plummeted. She was placed on a ventilator and in a medically-induced coma, then on an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine. ECMO is essentially a set of lungs outside of the body attached to a pump.  Blood is pulled from a vein in the neck; the ECMO machine has an oxygenator that removes carbon dioxide from the blood and replenishes it with oxygen. The oxygenated blood then flows back to the heart.

COVID causes amputations

After three weeks on ECMO, Candice woke to find her hands and her feet blackened.

“Seeing my arms and my feet super black, dead, they told me, ‘We’ve got to amputate your arms to keep you alive,’’’ Candice said. “You have to do what you have to do.’’

Surgeons amputated one arm above the elbow, the other below the elbow. In the days that followed, surgeons also amputated half of her right foot and her left leg below the knee.

“When they amputated my left leg, that’s when I really started to get emotional,’’ Candice said. “I am really sad about it.’’

Paige Davis, an environmental services professional at UCHealth Memorial Hospital shows her vaccine card.
Paige Davis, an environmental services employee at UCHealth Memorial Hospital, shows her vaccine card after receiving her booster shot. Photo by Cary Vogrin, UCHealth.

A visit from her mother

The day after Candice was admitted to the hospital, Paige arrived at her bedside. She saw her daughter fighting for her life.

“When I got there, she had so much equipment and so much stuff on her. I was overwhelmed, I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there. She didn’t even know I was there,’’ Paige said.

A strong woman who is no stranger to adversity, Paige and Candice were at one time homeless. They stayed in a shelter, where Paige said she slept with one eye open, one eye closed. Her son was in college at the time. She and Candice eventually found their way out of homelessness; with help from a social worker, Paige found the job at Memorial, where her co-workers have rallied around her with support since learning about Candice.

Candice graduated from high school, earned a bachelor’s degree at Colorado State University and, two years ago, took a job as a flight attendant.

Paige stayed in Philadelphia for six weeks, only to return to her job in Colorado Springs to see hospitals full of people suffering from COVID-19, many of them, like Candice, who were not vaccinated before being hospitalized. Paige has been fully vaccinated and recently received a booster shot.

“Her goal was to get the vaccination, but she just didn’t get to it, so she wasn’t vaccinated. Her brother got COVID at the same time, but he only lost his sense of smell and taste,’’ Paige said.  “I didn’t think COVID could take limbs. I appreciate the ECMO machine because she would have died if she didn’t have it, but to take limbs from a 30-year-old?  That’s why I advise everybody to get the shot.’’

Working in a hospital during a pandemic

In her years working in the hospital, Paige said she’s never seen a plague like COVID-19.

“I’ve seen it, and it’s not nice,’’ she said. “And it’s still here, and people are still sick and people are still passing. If they don’t get the shot, I don’t know what to say, because what I’ve seen, it’s not good at all. It’s the scariest thing I’ve seen since I’ve been here.

“I just wish everybody would get the shot.  My thing is…what you got to lose?’’ (To learn more about getting a vaccine, click here.)

Candice Davis in her hospital bed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after a severe case of COVID resulted in amputation.
Candice Davis in her hospital bed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after a severe case of COVID resulted in amputation. Photo: UCHealth.

Candice said she expects to be released from the hospital in Pennsylvania in early December. She’s been doing exercises and is getting fitted for prosthesis. A woman with strong faith, she said she turns to God for strength.

“We are more than our limbs and our physical outside that we see,’’ Candice said.

After she leaves the hospital, she’ll go to a physical rehabilitation facility to learn how to navigate her new world.

“The apartment ain’t gonna be suitable for Candice no more,’’ Paige said. “We’re going to go through a whole lot because we’re about to start therapy, hopefully. She’s been in the bed for so long, since the 17th of August, she is still in the bed,’’ she said in late November. “It’s going to be a whole other train ride, but we’re going to still keep going. We’ve got to learn how to walk, how to use the muscles, and she has to do all that all over again.’’

Candice said that she’s relied on her family and faith for strength.

“If it wasn’t for my family and my faith, this would be detrimental. All Glory to the Lord,’’ she said.

Her first goal is to get out of the hospital and move to a rehabilitation facility.

“I’m not a negative person, my goal is just being encouraged that this is going to be OK, to be encouraged that life is going to get back to normal, but it will be a little different.’’

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.

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