Tampa woman spends 2 months in coma battling pneumonia and the flu at same time

An illness that started with a cough last December turned into a potentially deadly combination of pneumonia and Influenza “A” for Jen Epstein, (who has the same name as a FOX 13 news anchor but is not related). It landed her in Tampa General for four months, two of those months in a coma. 

“They didn’t know from day to day if I was going to make it,” Jen said. “I could just barely breathe. I didn’t know what was wrong with me.”

“It was extremely touch-and-go,” said her father, David Epstein, owner of State Vacuum in Tampa. 

He and Jen’s boyfriend visited her in the hospital every day, although it was often unclear if she knew they were there. 

“We always hoped she knew,” said David. “You could squeeze her hand and talk to her and see a little bump in her heart rate.”

While Jen fought for her life, her mother Monica Epstein battled cancer. She passed away just after Jen came out of the coma. 

“I know that she held on to make sure I was ok,” said Jen Epstein. “When she saw me I think she knew it was OK to go.”

Doctors said an ECMO machine helped keep Jen alive. It’s a device that does the work of the lungs and heart outside the body.

“You were on that for a couple of months,” Dr. Mark Alkire told Jen Epstein. “It’s not a world record, but pretty close.”

More than machines and medicines, Jen Epstein gives more credit to Alkire and other doctors and nurses. She made a poster that she hopes to have everyone who helped care for her sign. She also wants to meet them all personally. 

“For two months I was in a coma, so I really never got to meet those nurses,” said Jen. “I want to give them hugs and say thank you. Just thank you for not giving up.”

From near death, she’s now beginning to work again.

She said when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, she’ll go back to the third floor at Tampa General to deliver her hugs.

“They always gave us hope. That’s all we wanted,” said David.

But, he says, they got much more: a life saved.