After eight days on a ventilator, the popular Utah teacher known around school as “Mama J” is now breathing on her own again and leaving the hospital to complete her recovery from COVID-19 at home.
Charri Jensen, who teaches sewing and design at Corner Canyon High, was set to be released sometime Tuesday afternoon or evening, said her daughter, Talesha Jensen. And her family couldn’t wait for the hospital staff to wheel her out, carrying with her the bundle of letters sent to her room by students.
“The nurses said she was so much fun that they didn’t want her to go,” Talesha Jensen added with a laugh.
Her family, she said, is grateful to have Jensen back home after fearing the worst with how quickly the virus attacked her head and lungs.
Jensen, 54, is one of the first teachers in the state to be hospitalized from COVID-19, which Talesha Jensen believes her mom contracted at the Draper school earlier this month. Corner Canyon High had reported having 15 cases on Sept. 11 among its students and staff, including a close colleague of Jensen’s. But the district’s board initially voted to keep the school open — against the recommendation from state health officials — despite the size of the outbreak.
And a few days later, after testing positive, Jensen went to the emergency room unable to breathe.
She was checked into the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator Sept. 17.
It wasn’t until that point that the district decided to switch to online instruction for two weeks. By then, Jensen’s husband and two daughters also had the virus, with much milder symptoms. And the spread in the school ballooned to more than 70 people.
Talesha Jensen said it’s been hard not to be able to go to the hospital and be with her mom over the past two weeks. But the staff has been holding up a phone with FaceTime so they could see Jensen, even as she was sedated, and whisper prayers.
Then, after five days with assisted breathing, Jensen’s stats began to improve, her daughter said. The hospital wanted to wait a while longer to make sure she remained steady. After three more days, the nurse called Talesha Jensen.
“I have a surprise to show you,” she said. And she flipped the camera to face Jensen in her bed.
She couldn’t talk at first because of the breathing tube. But she was awake and Jensen held up her hand in the sign for “I love you.”
“We were all crying,” Talesha Jensen said. “It was a really exciting moment. It was just so good to see her smile again.”
Her mom even started to dance a little, Talesha Jensen said.
It’s characteristic for Jensen, who is a larger-than-life personality at Corner Canyon High. She goes to every game there, sometimes bringing pompoms and always riding her trusty steed, a wooden hobbyhorse to represent the school’s mascot, the Chargers. When the student section doesn’t cheer loudly enough, Jensen stands in front to rally them up.
The students there have sent tons of letters and flowers and balloons both to the hospital and Jensen’s house where the kitchen counter is piled high. They’ve also posted pictures holding signs at games, saying “We love you, Mama J” — using the nickname that they gave her, partly because she teaches sewing and partly because she’s like everyone’s mom.
Someone also decorated their front lawn with purple ribbons, Jensen’s favorite color, for her birthday last week.
After she woke up, Jensen tried to read some of the cards, but said she felt so much love “it was overwhelming,” Talesha Jensen said. She told her mom there’d be time to get to everything.
“Her coming home is huge,” the daughter added. “I think that will help her heal 10 times better than sitting in the hospital.”
Her recovery isn’t expected to happen quickly, though. The hospital has arranged for Jensen to have physical and speech therapists visit.
She’s also operating with about a quarter of her lung capacity right now. And the impacts of the virus could be lifelong.
Jensen said she’s happy, at least, that the worst part is over and after two weeks away, her mama will be home again.