Not even a world in a pandemic can stop Helena Power’s glamorous life circling the world.
While caring for and teaching the son of a London billionaire, the 26-year-old Kiwi spent most of 2020 riding private jets for retreats in Ibiza, Switzerland and Australia.
Then he caught Covid-19 in London in December.
Now his damaged lungs resemble those of a 20-year-old smoker, leaving him breathless and unable to leave the house. He spends up to 12 hours a day sleeping.
Twice he was hospitalized, each time he had spent the previous hours breathless.
By the time the ambulance arrived, he desperately needed help.
“I couldn’t stand or walk. I was so confused,” said Power.
At first he thought being young and fit would be enough to get back up quickly.
Instead, Auckland-raised Power now thinks his story is a timely reminder to New Zealanders that beyond their enchanted borders lies an alternative reality to a pandemic-torn world battling a new, highly contagious strain of Covid.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday warned the country new strains of the virus could be even deadlier from the original.
This has pushed the hospital to the brink. The National Health Service this week said coronavirus patients were treated every 30 seconds.
Young people are not immune either. Power’s three healthy young friends were beaten at the same time as him.
They are now recovering better from it, but all are still battling fatigue and most are suffering from worse initial symptoms.
Power said he is diligently following health guidelines and trying to avoid the virus.
He recently changed jobs and started a new family in London before they moved to Qatar.
Leaving Power in an apartment in front of London’s prestigious Hyde Park, the young Kiwi is waiting for his Qatari visa to arrive before flying to join them.
But on December 17 he tested positive for Covid.
The 10-day mandatory quarantine in her apartment wasn’t so bad. He was tired, short of breath and lost his sense of taste and smell.
But then, 14 days after testing positive, he went out with a friend and started “having really bad breathing problems.”
After several hours of struggling to breathe, his friend called an ambulance.
At the hospital, the doctors do X-rays.
“They said my lungs were damaged by Covid,” said Power.
“Despite being 26 years old and never smoking – I don’t even drink alcohol – my lungs look like someone who’s been smoking for 20 years.”
She was then discharged, with instructions to stay on steroids, doing her best to look after herself and given an inhaler to inflate whenever she needed it.
Alone in her apartment in a sleep fog and exhausted with no one checking her in, she relies on a friend in Canada, who herself orders Uber Eats for her every day.
A day later, she got sick again and called another ambulance.
Treat it well but as before, the gist of the doctor’s message is don’t come back unless you absolutely have to – “if you’re dying,” says Power.
Nearly all of the country’s hospitals were within their capacity, and Power knew friends waited eight to 12 hours for an ambulance to arrive.
Luckily, he had an uncle who lived an hour south of London with his family, who brought him in.
She said she still slept for hours, and just moving from room to room was tiring.
Returning for the doctor’s recent check-up, he asked what he could do to get better.
The doctor said the medical team didn’t know. They told him that his lungs “forgot how to work” but were expected to recover in two weeks to three months.
Medical workers see the same phenomenon in many other patients, including young people.
“Doctors say that right now the health team is focused on trying to keep people alive,” said Power.
“Then, once they get to the point where everyone’s okay, they can better treat people with side effects.”
Billionaire Power’s former employer also suffered.
When the pandemic broke out in March, her employers immediately settled in Australia as a safe hiding place.
“My boss read the statistics about the virus and thought it was time to go, and he flew right away,” he said.
“For people like that, money is not an object, so we just choose a safe country, and he gets a big house on the Australian coast.”
They “chill out” there for several months before Europe begins to reopen during the Northern Hemisphere summer and the family moves again.
“We fly on private planes, and the houses we rent are all private – so for people who have enough money, you can keep traveling and stay safe.”
Ibiza and Switzerland were among the stops.
However, Covid finally infected Power’s employer, with tragic consequences for elderly family members.
Power, meanwhile, is still hoping to recover in time to take up his job in Qatar.
However, his constant illness made him doubtful. He also managed to secure a place in managed isolation in New Zealand during the end of February.
The opportunity to be at home with family support made him jump for joy – if not literally.
“I’m very lucky. I’ll be home in a month, which will give me enough time to work until I get to the plane,” he said.