Florida Mom with Stage 4 Cancer Unable to Get a Hospital Bed Due to Unvaccinated COVID Patients
For the last year, Karen Breitbart has faced extraordinary difficulties — she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in July, and in November, her mother passed away from late stage pancreatic cancer. Karen's cancer has spread to her abdomen, and she's undergoing chemotherapy again.
"And then, COVID really became bigger, and worse," her husband, Gregg, 59, a lawyer from Fort Lauderdale, Florida tells PEOPLE. (Their daughter is PEOPLE staffer Carly Breit.)
"I just kept thinking to myself, 'There's got to be a bottom to this somewhere.' Things just can't get any worse, and then things kept getting worse."
On Tuesday, Karen became severely ill following her latest chemotherapy treatment, and her doctor said to go to the emergency room.
"And, that's when the horror really set in," Gregg says, "when I started to call around to some of the emergency rooms and see what was going on."
The wait to be seen at nearby hospitals was as long as 12 hours, the hospitals bursting with COVID-19 patients as the state sees record levels of hospitalizations, deaths and new cases — the vast majority in unvaccinated patients.
At 5 a.m. Wednesday, Gregg brought an ailing Karen to Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, some 30 minutes away, and left her at the door, heartbroken he was unable to join his wife of 29 years.
She spent five hours in the waiting room until she was placed on a gurney in a hallway. A few hours later, Karen got a bed in an ER cubicle, where she stayed until Friday evening more than 56 hours after her arrival. She was able to return home Friday night after doctors determined she was stable enough to leave the hospital.
Gregg, a lawyer who rarely posts on social media, took to Facebook Thursday morning to write a moving post addressed to his 'unvaccinated friends' about Karen's plight.
"In the last 24 hours, the issue of COVID vaccinations has become very personal for my wife and our family. As many of you know, Karen is battling a serious Stage 4 cancer. Yesterday afternoon, she became extremely nauseous and was ill for most of the next 12 hours. When the doctor suggested that we bring her to the emergency room, here's what we experienced."
"The hospital closest to our home had 82 patients working their way through the ER system there, with projected wait times of 3 to 12 hours. The main hospital about 30 minutes away also stated that they could not guarantee that anyone would see her within 4 to 6 hours, even though they acknowledged that her situation sounded pretty serious."
"In both cases, the hospital staff indicated that this terrible situation was mainly a function of unvaccinated people arriving at the emergency room with COVID symptoms."
"Karen then sat in a waiting room chair for almost 5 hours with a sick bag, all alone, until she was placed on a gurney in a hallway. (I am choking up just thinking about it while I write this.) A couple of hours later, they gave her a bed in an ER cubicle, and are just now starting to give her the attention and treatment she needs to hopefully get through this episode. It's still unknown how long she'll be there before a room actually opens up."
Gregg tells PEOPLE that an emergency room nurse, whom he praises along with all the other overwhelmed healthcare workers in the ER, shared that there were 70 other people in the emergency room in a similar situation as Karen's — ready to be admitted but with no beds to go to.
In the Facebook post, Gregg continued:
"So, my friends, this is where your "personal freedom" to remain unvaccinated is now causing severe, negative impacts for the rest of us, including my wife and my family, in a very direct way."
"...The scientific evidence establishes that individually and collectively, we all stand a far greater chance of getting through this alive and without subjecting the medical system to these kinds of overloads — which in turn, create grave risks for people like Karen — if more of us get vaccinated.
"For those of you who were "waiting" to get the vaccine, seriously, it's time."
Gregg ends the post, writing:
"Folks, I hope you never have to drop a loved one in serious distress off at a hospital waiting room, to sit there alone for 5 hours or more, while you wait to hear whether anyone has seen him or her yet, or what's even going on. And there's a way you can increase the chances that you'll never have to do that. Get vaccinated. For yourself, for your family, for your friends. And for Karen."
Since he wrote the post, he's gotten a supportive response.
"I've gotten lots of really, really, really nice responses from friends," he says. "And maybe one of the best things is that, probably this morning, I got an email from a client, friend who had not had the vaccination. And, he wrote me a nice email and said, 'You're one of the few people I think I can trust on this. So, I just set my appointments.' "