Kansas couple urges COVID-19 vaccines after virus almost takes unborn baby

Holly (left) and Thomas (right) Ekeler plead with Kansans to get vaccinated against COVID-19...
Holly (left) and Thomas (right) Ekeler plead with Kansans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after the virus almost took their unborn child on Jan. 3, 2022.(University of Kansas Health Systems)
Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 1:08 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A Kansas couple is now pleading with the community to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after their brush with the virus almost took their unborn child.

At the University of Kansas Health System Monday Morning Medical Update, on Jan. 3, KU said Thomas and Holly Ekeler, a couple from Wichita, joined Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer, and Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control. The Ekelers expect a baby to join their family in March and discussed their harrowing experience when they both caught COVID-19 after being vaccine-hesitant.

Thomas said he resisted the vaccine and thought it was “too new” and “experimental” - then he caught a mild case of the virus. He said he made a mistake by waiting which allowed him to spread the virus to his pregnant wife.

Thomas has warned Kansans that COVID-19 is not just a cold or the flu. He also challenged those who are also vaccine-hesitant to make decisions on facts and trusted medical sources.

Holly said she was 23 weeks pregnant and developed a much worse case of the virus. She even needed to be flown to KU Health Systems and ended up on a ventilator.

Due to contracting COVID-19, Holly said she and Thomas almost lost their baby.

Finally, Holly said she turned a corner and was released from the hospital. The Ekelers said both have since been fully vaccinated against the virus and are scheduled soon for their boosters.

Holly said she still has lingering side effects like asthma, kidney stones and voice problems, however, baby boy Henry survived and is due in March.

Dr. Stites said pregnant women have a much higher risk of illness and death from COVID-19.

Stites also said the current surge of cases was expected after Thanksgiving and he said 500 health system employees have been affected while not all of them tested positive. In South Africa, he said Omicron brought a rapid rise of cases and then a steep fall and he said he hopes the U.S. sees the same trend.

Lastly, Stites said nursing homes are still at high risk due to low staff vaccination rates. He said this could make it tough to place patients who have been discharged from the hospital.

“If you’re unvaccinated, it doesn’t affect just you, it affects the whole community with the strain on hospital beds and resources,” Dr. Stites said.

Finally, Dr. Hawkinson said about 1-in-400 Americans have now died from COVID-19 infections. He called this a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” as a vast majority of those hospitalized have not gotten COVID-19 vaccines.

Hawkinson said too much misinformation is keeping people from getting vaccinated.

“COVID is becoming endemic,” said Dr. Hawkinson. “It will always be with us regardless of season.”

As for its current COVID-patient update, KU said on Monday the number of COVID patients in its hospitals continues to climb. The Health System said 73 patients with active cases of the virus were being treated, which was up from 68 on Friday. Only five of those patients were vaccinated. It said 20 of the hospitalized patients were in the ICU, which is up from 15 on Friday. Fourteen of those are on ventilators, which is up from ten on Friday. Lastly, it said 35 other patients are still hospitalized due to the virus but are out of the acute infection phase, which is up from 31 on Friday.

KU said that is a total of 108 COVID-positive patients, which is up from 99 on Friday.

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