On December 13, 2019, Judi Evans was dealt a devastating, life-altering blow when her beloved son, Austin, passed away at the age of 23. Then, on May 16, 2020, Evans was out riding her horse and wound up in the hospital for weeks, where she contracted coronavirus and nearly had her legs amputated. Here, the actress opens up about the last six months of her life, and how she’s doing now that she’s recovering at home.
Soap Opera Digest: Let’s start with the riding accident. What happened?
Judi Evans: I was obviously very depressed and not leaving my couch for a long time. My husband and some friends were like, “You know, maybe start working with your horses again. It makes you feel like you’re part of the world again. You got to come back.” So I did. I had already taken the one horse I had the accident on out a day before. We had a wonderful ride out in the river bank. On the second day, we were riding and she started acting very strange, like turning around trying to nip at my toes. She sensed something I didn’t. We were in some very lush trails and we popped out onto a road. A few yards away from us, three men on horseback popped out of another trail. You know that instant feeling of, “Oh, not good”? And then I heard one of them say, “There she is.” I didn’t really want to stick around to find out what they meant, and neither did my horse. We whirled around, we went back into some marsh trails and tried to double back and put some distance between us and them. So we were trotting, trying to get away from them and head back to the barn. We came to this big sandy area and my foot came out of the stirrup. I gripped harder with my legs, which to her said, “Go faster.” I’m trying to stop her and she’s scared and running and doing 15, 20 miles an hour. I’m like, “I can’t get her under control, I’ll just lean over as far as possible and throw myself off. It’s sand. Sand is soft. It shouldn’t be a problem.” I mean, I’ve done it on hard ground and haven’t had a problem. So, I did, and sand is not soft at all! I knew I broke some bad things in my left side. Of course, she ran back to the barn. My phone and my keys were in my saddlebag. I popped up immediately ’cause I’m like, “I don’t know how far we got away from these guys so let me start walking.”
Some passersby saw Evans and called 911. She was taken to the hospital.
Evans: I had seven broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a couple of chipped vertebrae and a bruised lung from the forced trauma. I had some lung issues. They kept taking me down to have CT scans and sonograms. They’d take me all through the hospital, but they failed to put a mask on me and had me waiting with other patients. Anyway, I got very scared because the hospital had a lot of COVID patients in it, as well. I kept asking for a test and they kept saying no. They were going to do something else on my lungs and my fever spiked. I don’t get fevers. I have a low temperature. I was going to 102, 102.2, 102.5 and I was like, “Can I please have a COVID test?” And the infectious disease team said, “Well, you really don’t have enough symptoms.” I was like, “You know what, we’re spending thousands of dollars on these other tests. Can I have the $150 COVID test, please?” They gave it to me and it came back positive. They put me in the COVID ward, which was so horrible. I felt so bad for the other patients, ’cause I could hear them screaming night and day and crying. It’s like a little prison. Even the doctors don’t come in. If you have a message for your doctor, the nurse will relay it. They try to come in as little as possible, which is understandable. The nurses were amazing because they are the ones that are really on the front line of putting their lives on the line every single day, all day long.
Evans developed clots in her legs from COVID-19.
Evans: My legs blew up to like three times their size. My feet were turning purple. One doctor came in and said, “We may have to amputate.” And I’m like, “Oh, God, no. Don’t amputate my leg.” But they ended up operating on my legs and taking about a foot and a half of clot out of each leg. Luckily, they didn’t go to my heart, which would have been immediate fatality. I feel very blessed by God. I’m very fortunate that I’m still here. They operated on my legs twice, and during the second one, I could feel the pain all the way down my leg and under my foot. And I’m screaming. And they’re like, “Oh, sorry. Nurse, get her some twilight [anesthesia].” It was just craziness after craziness after craziness. I’m just glad to be home. I’m glad to be alive. I feel very, very fortunate. No one could visit at the hospital at all.
Digest: What was that like for you to be separated from your husband, Michael, like that?
Evans: All along, there really aren’t patient advocates. Before the COVID, about the third day in, they started doing all of these treatments and tests and I had no idea what was going on. I started denying the blood tests, denying the breathing treatments, denying my food. I said, “I need a doctor to tell me why we’re doing this.” And then finally, because I started saying no to everything, they ran a doctor in. She said, “Oh, they didn’t tell you? Your lung is separated from your chest wall. We’ve got to do tests.” I said, “Okay, that’s fine. I’ll do it now, but you can’t keep doing all these things without me knowing what you’re doing and why.” I don’t know what, but I want to make sure that when I’m getting a little better that there’s something I could do to make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to someone else. You have to be informed as a patient because there’s no one there to listen for you. I mean, it’s a nightmare that will play back in my head, being in that COVID ward and hearing so many people terrified and in pain and screaming and crying, literally 24/7. God only knows what they were going through. If there’s anything I can do to help to alleviate that in any way, I’m sure going to make it my mission.
Digest: What was it like to get released? How did it feel?
Evans: I think they just wanted to get me out of there. I was just glad to get out of there and be with my husband again and come home and see the dogs and just be somewhere where I felt safe again.
Digest: What’s the transition been like?
Evans: It’s so wonderful because I’m in great hands with my husband. There’s still a long way to go with my lung and with the blood clots. It’s just a process. I know I’m in capable hands with this doctor. Today was more X-rays and figuring out which pulmonologist to go to follow up, to make sure I don’t end up back in the hospital because I do still have fluid in my lungs, and don’t want to get to a pneumonia stage. But according to him, it’s better than he even expected. Yesterday, Michael and I walked, I know it sounds a little crazy, but a little over two blocks!
Digest: That’s big!
Evans: It’s huge. My husband’s been terrific. So between my doctor and Michael, I’m doing really well. Within a few weeks, I should be almost good as new except for the healing of the bones, which today in the X-rays, they look really good. All the rib fractures are healing properly and straight together. And the collarbone, too. I’m totally on the mend.
Digest: What did the support of your castmates and crew mean to you?
Evans: My DAYS family has been amazing. They have really supported, reached out and given me so much courage. And my ANOTHER WORLD family [where she played Paulina], just amazing. You know you have family, but when things like this happen, you don’t realize just how much wonderful family you do have. They gave me the hope and the strength with the daily, hourly encouragement. Deidre’s [Hall, Marlena] been amazing. She has held my hand through these last six months. [Gets choked up.] She’s such a great support, such a great friend to me. I am so grateful to her. And, of course, Wally [Kurth, Justin]. Every day he texts me, “How’s my girl doing today?” It’s so sweet. So many people at DAYS have been so amazing. The FaceTime calls and the Zoom calls are amazing, too. They lift your spirits with their love, their prayers, everything. That’s what gets you through. We gain strength from the people around us.
Digest: The fans also took to social media to send you messages of support and hope. How did you feel to see all of that?
Evans: Uplifted. Strong. I have love for them, and to have that love returned, too, is just unfathomable and wonderful and incredibly uplifting. I know I wasn’t alone at any time. There were hundreds of thousands of people. We were all together. That really means a lot. That really does pull you out of the deep dark pit and onto the road to recovery, for sure.
Digest: When you look back at the last six months and everything you’ve gone through, what does it say to you about yourself and who you are as a person?
Evans: It’s funny because I don’t feel strong. You know, one foot in front of the other. What’s been very touching is that people have gained their own strengths through this journey. If I can do that for one person, if not more, I’m just glad to be able to give back the strength that people have given to me. It’s something that is unimaginable and unfathomable and just takes that one step at a time and you don’t want to take it. If I can encourage people or help people … so many people have given me a hand up. If I can give that back, that’s another mission and another goal.
Digest: As you look now to the future, what’s foremost in your mind as you figure out your next steps and chapter?
Evans: I don’t know. The future is wide open. I’m open to accepting challenges and ready to take on those challenges physically, emotionally, career-wise. My mission is to help people and to continue to help people in any way I can, whether it’s just through my own experience or advocating for people. I don’t know what’s next, but I am ready for any journey that comes our way. Sometimes you get through some things, and when you get through them, you think, “Well, if I can get through this, I can get through anything.” So, I’m looking forward to the challenges and keep putting one foot in front of the other.