NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, Texas (CBSDFW.COM – After spending 79 days hospitalized, Paola Castillo, 24, of North Richland Hills, got to go home.

She arrived at the Medical City North Hills emergency department with difficulty breathing, a cough and fever on April 27.

Doctors at the hospital said her road to recovery is far from over after discharge, but the staff celebrated her “fighting spirit and remarkable recovery against dismal odds.”

Castillo was close to death during her nearly three-month stay, the hospital said.

Castillo said the symptoms began six days before she went to the hospital.

After testing positive for coronavirus, she was unable to manage on her own and sought emergency care.

She was placed on a ventilator within the first 24 hours at the hospital.

Paola Castillo speaks from her hospital bed. (credit: Medical City North Hills)

She spent more than a month in the ICU and on a ventilator where she said her husband and mother were told it was “touch and go,” the hospital said in a news release.

In the ICU while on the ventilator, medications kept her sedated and calm and she recalls only a few interactions with staff in what she thought were dreams, including one she will never forget.

“I saw a light,” says Castillo while recuperating at Medical City North Hills. “That light was God telling me it was time to wake up.”

After slowly being weaned from the ventilator, Castillo found that many of her physical abilities had atrophied, such as the ability to talk, swallow and walk.

Nurses, therapists and other staff worked to provide compassionate care and meaningful connections to keep her motivated and positive during rehabilitation. Caregivers even helped Castillo venture outside to feel the rain after 67 days inside the hospital. She took her first steps since being admitted on July 3.

Paola Castillo with some of the medical team that helped save her life.(credit: Medical City North Hills)

Castillo said it never even crossed her mind she could get the virus.

“Maybe if I would have just listened and worn a mask, just a simple thing, I would have avoided all this,” she said.  “I work at a bank – I’m always around people – but I was like I’m fine, I’m fine. Never did I think I’d catch it.”

Dr. Hetal Rana, a physician at Medical City North Hills, says they’re seeing more and more young patients contract the virus. The COVID unit at the hospital has been basically full for the past six weeks, and staff are exhausted.

“We have seen so much negativity,” Dr. Rana said. “We’ve seen a lot of patients die in our hospital that were in her situation.”

That’s why Castillo’s story gives them so much hope

“It just kind of re-energizes you and gives you that sense of what it means to save someone’s life and to help someone overcome such a severe illness like this,” said Dr. Rana.

Paola Castillo is discharged from the hospital. (credit: Medical City North Hills)

Castillo has since tested negative for the virus.