Health

Pregnant mother urges vaccination after COVID hospitalization

Holly Ekeler and Thomas Ekeler, of Wichita, were both diagnosed with COVID-19 when Holly was around 25 weeks pregnant.  The two were not vaccinated at the time, but chose to be vaccinated after Holly's hospitalization.  They told their story to the University of Kansas Health System.

Holly Ekeler and Thomas Ekeler, of Wichita, were both diagnosed with COVID-19 when Holly was around 25 weeks pregnant. The two were not vaccinated at the time, but chose to be vaccinated after Holly’s hospitalization. They told their story to the University of Kansas Health System.

The University of Kansas Health System

Thomas and Holly Ekeler have tried for years to have a baby. Finally, in 2021, they found out they were waiting. Then they both contracted COVID-19. Neither has been vaccinated.

Thomas Ekeler, 37, said his symptoms were mostly mild. But his wife for five years was hospitalized 25 weeks after the start of her pregnancy. She was eventually put on a ventilator at a hospital in Wichita, where they live.

The couple shared their story this week during a COVID-19 briefing from the University of Kansas Health System, urging others to get vaccinated.

They recalled how doctors prepared for an early delivery, although at the time they were told that the child would have little chance of survival.

At one point, Thomas Ekeler took a selfie with his wife in the hospital. He was not smiling, in a mask. His eyes were closed. At the time, he feared that this would be the last photo he would take with her.

As Holly Ekeler’s condition worsened, she was taken by Life Flight to the University of Kansas Health System.

After Thomas Ekeler feared losing his wife and unborn son, Holly Ekeler began to improve. Seven days after being on a ventilator, she was able to go home.

Both have since been vaccinated. Holly Ekeler had hers before she left the hospital.

“You don’t want to go through this,” Holly Ekeler said in conversation with University of Kansas Health System Surgeon General Dr. Steve Stites during the briefing. “It was a terrible experience and I’m lucky to be alive.”

Stites said the rate of serious hospitalization and death is much higher among pregnant women than among the general population. He encouraged pregnant women to get the vaccine if they haven’t already.

Couple urges others to get vaccinated

The Ekeler, whose son is due in early 2022, are now encouraging others to get vaccinated. Although Holly Ekeler has been discharged from the hospital, they have been told that complications from her diagnosis of COVID-19 could lead to a premature birth.

Their decision not to get the vaccine when it first became available was similar to that of many others, they said at the KU briefing.

At first, Thomas Ekeler said he felt the vaccine had been rushed and the pandemic was “overdone”.

Holly Ekeler shared many of her husband’s concerns.

“I didn’t know which way to go or what to believe,” she said.

Since that time, Thomas Ekeler has seen the interior of COVID units in hospitals and the interior of labor and delivery units where some mothers infected with COVID-19 were fighting for their lives.

“Do it, do anything to save your loved ones,” Thomas Ekeler said of the vaccine.

A day or two after his wife was put on a ventilator, Thomas Ekeler said many of their family members had come out and being vaccinated.

As of this week, about 95% of people hospitalized with the coronavirus have not been vaccinated, Stites said. And the percentage of unvaccinated people in intensive care with COVID-19 is closer to 98 or 99%.

“No one can question the effectiveness of vaccination any longer, or its safety,” he said.

Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 550,000 Kansans have contracted the virus, more than 17,000 have been hospitalized and 7,059 have died, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

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Anna Spoerre covers the latest news for the Kansas City Star. Prior to joining The Star, she covered crime and the courts for the Des Moines Register. Spoerre graduated from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where she studied journalism.

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