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Positively San Diego: Couple opens up about Wuhan evacuation ordeal at start of pandemic

Posted at 6:50 AM, Feb 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 09:50:28-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- This time last year, just as troubling news about a fast-spreading virus was blowing up, a local mom was trying to get herself and her two young children home to San Diego from Wuhan, China, as her anxious husband waited for word.

At the time, mom Yanjun Wei -- who goes by Quinn -- was too exhausted to talk about her ordeal. Now, she and husband Ken Burnett are sharing what they went through and how they've emerged stronger.

These days, the happy sound of their children's laughter is a far cry from what Ken and Quinn were hearing just over a year ago, that cases of a mysterious virus were starting to surge in Wuhan. Ken says, “That’s when the alarm bells started going off for me because that was such a quick turnaround.”

His wife, their daughter Mia and son Rowan traveled to Wuhan in early November 2019 to spend time with her parents through Chinese New Year. But their carefree visit would take a turn. In a strange twist of fate, Quinn was also away from home studying when the SARS virus hit in the early 2000s. But she says this was different.

“This time was even more scary because now I have two little ones," Quinn said.

By late January, as Wuhan went into lockdown, Quinn was trying to find a way home. That's when the U.S. chartered flights to evacuate Americans. Quinn says, “When I saw the news, I just, I cried.”

However, her ordeal was far from over. She says she and the others spent 12 hours at the airport, her son then struggling with the screening process to board the plane. Then, after three hours sitting on the tarmac, the 14-hour flight on an uncomfortable, windowless cargo plane began.

“Actually, I was traumatized by that,” Quinn says, “I didn't eat, I didn't drink, I didn't sleep for two nights.”

Along with the mental strain of the uncertainty surrounding the virus and a tired 3-year-old acting out, Quinn says she hit the breaking point. “No food, no drink, I had to go to the potty for that long, and then no sleep and I just had a meltdown," she said.

Once the plane landed at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California, everyone went into a 14-day quarantine. Rowan went into a deep sleep and then, a new scare for Quinn.

“Mia and I were both super dehydrated, I was put on IV,” she says, “the doctor was trying to give her (Mia) orange juice to get some liquids in her body and she was not responding for a couple of minutes.”

Eventually, things settled down. Ken, who stayed connected by phone, sent flowers and a loving message while his family spent Valentine's Day in quarantine. Days later, they were finally all safely back in San Diego.

Quinn says the experience taught her about herself. “I think I'm a fighter,” she says with a laugh.

Ken says the experience has strengthened his empathy and he has this hope for the future. “All the kids that have been affected by this that they can maybe have some kind of bond where they can end up with some kind of normalcy at some point.”

They both say they can't wait to enjoy life again with other people in person.