Krista Tkacz ’09 pushed through illness, grief, anxiety and a global pandemic to achieve her long-term goal of becoming a board-certified nurse practitioner.
After working a gynecologic shift in November 2020, Krista developed a very mild cough, which she initially thought was caused by the change in weather. The next day, she felt like she had run a marathon — the exhaustion and cough were tell-tale signs. She had COVID-19, and things were going to get worse.
“At this point, I wasn’t worried because I am generally a healthy person. With the exception of some depression and anxiety, along with gaining some weight due to the stress of being in school and working the front lines during a pandemic, I thought I’d be able to ride out the virus at home and be back to work and school in a week.”
The day after her diagnosis was confirmed, she noticed her cherished dog, Lola — a 9-year-old pitbull — was in pain and refusing to eat. Krista contacted the local emergency veterinary clinic, explained that she was battling COVID-19 but her dog was in need of immediate care. That night, she learned Lola had a large, malignant tumor that was bleeding into her abdomen. Rather than subject her to surgery and aggressive chemotherapy that would, at best, extend her survival to six months, Krista brought her dog home.
“I took this as a sign that I had been blessed to be diagnosed with COVID and that I could spend the next few days managing Lola’s pain and spending as much time with her as possible. Two days later, I was able to have Lola humanely euthanized, and my heart was completely crushed.”
Within 24 hours, Krista’s temperature spiked and more serious symptoms started to emerge. Her parents and friends volunteered to drive her to the hospital, but rather than risk exposing them to an illness that was now causing her to have an erratic, high heart rate and a blue rash across her chest, she drove herself.
“At the hospital, the doctor ordered a CT scan to rule out a pulmonary embolism, and while I did not have a blood clot, I was found to have extensive bilateral bacterial pneumonia. This was initially missed by the physician, who simply told me that I did not have a blood clot and that I could go home.”
Though it took three weeks to recover and return to work and school, COVID wasn’t finished with her. Brain fog, severe anxiety, chest pain and depression set in as Krista worked and completed her required clinical hours.
“It was truly embarrassing at times. I would do clinical with my nurse practitioner preceptor and she would ask, ‘can you go in and do that GYN exam,’ and I would be crying and say, ‘I guess I can.” I was crying for no reason at all. I had this unfounded anxiety over nothing.”
It took time, the COVID-19 vaccine and plenty of help from people in her life to create a bridge to a normal, healthy life for Krista.
“I kept fighting, and if it wasn’t for the love, support, and acceptance from my family and friends, I don’t think I would have been able to get through this time in my life.”
In May, she graduated from Monmouth University’s program. Within a few weeks, she successfully sat for her Board exam, finally reaching her goal of becoming a nurse practitioner.
“It’s not just about hard work. It’s about everything else that happens in the process. It’s about finishing.”