KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This was the headline the first time The Star told of Gwen Starkey's battle against COVID-19:
"100 days on a ventilator: Can Missouri COVID patient be one of the rare lucky ones?"
And here's the answer: Yes. But it took nearly all of 2021.
Starkey is headed to rehabilitation in Johnson County this week without the machine that helped her breathe for more than 300 days — 322 by her daughter's count.
She went on the ventilator last February and spent December being weaned from it. On Dec. 31 she received a colorful document signed by a respiratory therapist that reads: "Certificate of Ventilator Liberation."
"It's so fantastic for her because she hadn't eaten real food for almost a year," Starkey's daughter April Shaver, of Kansas City, told The Star. "And her thing right now is tacos."
Starkey was little more than a "body in a bed," as Shaver described it. While she was on the ventilator, Starkey's father died and she turned 60, which she celebrated last month with Wendy's french fries in the hospital cafeteria.
"We're just removing 2021 from the calendar," Shaver said. "It never happened. We get a redo."
Her mom got infected before COVID vaccines were widely available.
"Now that the vaccine's available and it's free and people are getting sick and they're dying because they're unvaccinated, it doesn't make sense to me," said Shaver. "And it's sad because it's preventable."