Last week the Lyon County Board of County Commissioners in Emporia declared a local emergency after the town's hospital, Newman Regional Health, asked for two additional ventilators from the state's Emergency Operations Center.
Having oxygen forced into your body is noisy, uncomfortable and debilitating for two days or 100 days, let alone 322.
Starkey couldn't speak for months with a tracheotomy tube in her throat. In September a valve was placed over the trach, allowing her to talk in that way Shaver has heard lung cancer victims speak, "raspy, deep, kind of like a mechanical sound," she said.
"When she coughed through that it was really loud and kind of intimidating. But she's been getting better and better at the talking.
"And now they don't have to put the voice valve in. They can actually put a plastic cap over the top of that trach and she can just talk normal."
How many times she worried that her mom wouldn't be able to fight her way out of all the setbacks — collapsed lungs, kidney failure, internal bleeding, hallucinations and "COVID brain" confusion.
But Starkey was determined, and filled with faith. About a month after she was hospitalized, she told her family on FaceTime that she didn't work all those years at the Ford plant just to die in a bed with COVID.
She was first admitted to Liberty Hospital with pneumonia caused by the virus. Then she was taken by ambulance to Saint Luke's in Kansas City, where she spent three weeks hooked up to an ECMO — extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — external bypass machine.
She's been on a ventilator at Kindred Hospital Northland, a transitional care hospital, since June.
A CONSTANT COMPANION