MILWAUKEE – Lona Towsley had beaten cervical cancer at the age of 19, then uterine cancer at 28. She never doubted she would survive. For 23 years, she’s been cancer-free.

But on April 19, the day the doctor said she would need to be placed on a ventilator, the 53-year-old mother of two felt worn out from fighting COVID-19. She didn’t think she could fight anymore.

The survival figures for COVID-19 patients on ventilators inspire little hope. A study in China found that 86% of those who required mechanical ventilation died. A larger British study of 165 patients reported a death rate of 66% for those needing advanced respiratory support.   

As she lay there at UW Health University Hospital in Madison, Lona could feel her lungs filling with fluid.

Lona Towsley was infected with COVID-19 and was placed on a ventilator. She survived perhaps because she had