Unvaccinated teen recovers after month in hospital

An Oak Harbor teen is home after being treated for a COVID-19 case that developed into pneumonia.

An Oak Harbor teenager is back home after spending a month at Children’s Hospital in Seattle being treated for a case of COVID-19 that developed into life-threatening pneumonia.

Her father, Chris Welden, is sharing the story of the ordeal because he feels like it could help people when it comes to making decisions about vaccinations. He said a lot of people, including himself, had stopped being scared of the virus over the many months of the pandemic.

“It was an eye opener,” he said, “especially now that young people are starting to get it.”

Welden explained that his 16-year-old daughter, Kasey, came down with what seemed like a stomach bug. She went to the doctor on July 15 and was given a routine COVID-19 test that’s part of protocol nowadays. To the family’s surprise, it came back positive.

Kasey became lethargic and developed a cough, but she said she was feeling better after a few days in bed.

Then she took a sudden turn for the worse. The family took her to the ER at WhidbeyHealth Medical Center in Coupeville. The doctors became alarmed after checking her blood oxygen levels and taking a chest X-ray, her father explained.

The teenager was immediately airlifted to Children’s Hospital for living-saving treatment. The doctors there found she had developed a collapsed lung with a hole in it from coronavirus-related pneumonia.

The doctors put her on pure oxygen, her father explained. When that didn’t help, they intubated her and placed her on a ventilator.

Still, Kasey wasn’t recovering. Doctors took the extraordinary step of placing her on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, which is a machine that pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that it should be used only as a last resort.

It worked. After 10 days, she was taken off the machine, but she remained at the hospital for a couple of weeks more. She finally came home on Aug. 20.

Welden said his daughter hasn’t been vaccinated because the family decided to wait awhile for more information after hearing about the vaccine causing potential heart problems in children.

“Obviously, we waited too long,” he said, adding that he’s not sure if she got the delta variant.

According to Harvard University, nine out of a million girls 12-17 years old (67 in a million boys in that age range) who get a vaccine will experience heart inflammation, but the majority of them recover.

The risk of getting COVID-19 when one is unvaccinated, or becoming seriously ill, is astronomically higher. Island County reported that one out of 123 unvaccinated residents got COVID-19 last week alone.

“It’s still more dangerous to drive to a vaccine site than it is to get the vaccine,” Dr. Howard Leibrand, the county’s public health officer, said.

Welden said his daughter is doing very well and seems to have recovered, except that she gets tired more easily from exertion. She has a doctor’s appointment next week and will find out if she can go to school or get a vaccination.

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