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COVID patient spent 322 days on a ventilator. At last she has some good news

Lisa Gutierrez, The Kansas City Star on

Published in Health & Fitness

She came off the ventilator for a handful of days in August. Staff even rolled the machine out of her room, after which Shaver sent an optimistic update to The Star.

"Yesterday she did 14 straight hours breathing on her own," she said at the time. "She is holding her own and slowly started weening off that vent. We've had long days of delirium and depression but that's starting to ease up too.

"My sister and I have been taking turns gowning up and visiting her inside. I picked flowers from my garden and delivered them to her in a beautiful bouquet which she enjoyed.

"And a couple days ago I got a call from her at about 9 a.m. that she needed me right away, so I went to her and all she wanted was for me to hug her.

"So I crawled up on her bed as much as I could and just held her for about an hour. It was awesome. She said 'this is what I needed.'"

But the hope faded quickly when her mom struggled to breathe without the ventilator and went right back on it.

Except for the first three weeks she spent in isolation, Starkey's husband of 25 years, Troy, has been at her bedside. The couple live in Polo, northeast of Kansas City.

"My dad has been there since day 21, he has not missed a single day," said Shaver. "If it weren't for him she wouldn't be where she is.

"He lives an hour away. He would drive up there and drive back, every single day.

"He got to the point where he knows as much about the ventilator, about the tubing and the trach, as much as that staff does. I think having someone to be an advocate and keep an eye on the way things go and to be there and support you was the biggest thing that got her where she is. And of course, her fight to survive."

LET HER EAT CAKE

Speech therapists did innumerable swallow tests to make sure Starkey wouldn't aspirate food into her lungs before they allowed her to eat real food again. She took baby steps, starting with the "minced and mashed" menu of apple sauce, mashed potatoes and other soft foods.

Now that she can safely eat again she's been wanting tacos and grilled cheese sandwiches.

 

But "her favorite food, believe it or not, is the macaroni and cheese from QuikTrip," said Shaver. "I brought her some in one day and she's been craving it since then. So every day I go to visit her, I stop at the QuikTrip and I get some macaroni from the deli there.

"I've been bringing in cake. All of those things that she wants, we bring it in."

Starkey's father died of COPD last April while she was on the ventilator, but her family decided not to tell her, afraid the shock would be too much. A beloved cousin died of cancer soon after.

"It would have been a lot," said Shaver. "She would have been really sad, and she wasn't in the mind set to take that kind of sadness."

But right before Thanksgiving, Starkey found out her father was gone.

"And that's when she started getting her mind right," said Shaver.

As Starkey's mind grew sharper, "that's when her progress started skyrocketing," Shaver said.

She thinks the news of her grandfather's death lit a fire under her mother that life is passing her by outside the walls of the hospital.

And suddenly, her mom was telling the family, "Let's do this. I'm ready to get out of here."

She heads to rehab in Johnson County this week for who knows how long, with a shaved head. Sharkey got tired of her hair getting matted and had it shaved off a couple of months ago.

"We really hope that her one-year anniversary is her leaving the hospital and coming home," said Shaver.

The family is eyeing Feb. 12 for a homecoming, the day before the Super Bowl.

©2022 The Kansas City Star. Visit at kansascity.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.