Wichita couple hope their close call with COVID-19 encourages others to get vaccinated

By: - January 3, 2022 2:42 pm

It wasn’t until Todd and Holly Eckler, who was 25 weeks pregnant, contracted COVID-19 that the couple decided it was time to get vaccinated. Now they hope their story will show the value of preemptive vaccination. (Screenshot of University of Kansas Health System video on Facebook)

TOPEKA — Wichita resident Thomas and Holly Eckler chose to wait on vaccinating themselves against COVID-19, but things changed after the husband and pregnant wife contracted the illness, sending her to the hospital and jeopardizing their unborn child’s health.

While Thomas Eckler’s symptoms were minimal in comparison, hospital staff placed Holly Eckler, who was 25 weeks pregnant, on a ventilator and flew her to the University of Kansas Health System. Doctors were almost certain they would need to deliver the baby early, and the child would have little chance of survival.

While his wife struggled to recover, Thomas Eckler took time to learn as much as he could from those caring for his wife. Eventually, Holly Eckler and her baby’s health turned the corner.

“Being in the hospital after I was awake, seeing all the patients, all the nurses that are running their tails off and all the doctors that came in, I want him to be as healthy as possible and that’s why I decided to do it,” Holly Eckler said.

The Ecklers shared their experience Monday during a KU Health System news briefing because they felt their doubts about COVID-19 and the vaccines mirror that of many Kansans. Medical professionals on the briefing emphasized the dangers of the illness for pregnant women and encouraged people to follow this family’s example.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 14,855 new cases and 43 new deaths since Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic to 534,399 and total deaths to 7,044. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 57% of Kansans are fully vaccinated, including 68.4% of adults.

While he still believes in personal choice, Thomas Eckler said the choice to get vaccinated is in the best health interests of almost everyone — not only to protect themselves but to protect more vulnerable people.

“We looked at it in the beginning like many people do, which is that it’s just the cold or the flu and it’s not going to have much of a difference of impact on us, but it doesn’t turn into that,” he said. “It just hits you so much more severe.”

Medical experts fear inflammation in Holly Eckler’s kidneys and possible scarring caused by COVID-19 could prove dangerous if she should carry her child to full term and may require premature delivery. Her voice is also taking time to recover.

Stephen Stites, chief medical officer for KU Health System, said the rate of serious hospitalization and death in pregnant women is much higher than it is in the general population. More severe lung disease and other complications, like clotting, can play a role in losing the baby, he said.

“I think if you look at the groups of people who need to get vaccinated, pregnant women are one of the top of that list,” Stites said. “If you look at our ICU population, it’s almost 98 or 99% unvaccinated. Nobody can question the efficacy of vaccination nor the safety of it any longer, and if you do, it’s just pseudoscience.”

Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention for KU Health System, said misinformation campaigns continue to slow public health efforts. COVID-19 is endemic — meaning it will be around for a while — so it is best to start taking precautions now, he said.

“What you have to do individually is protect yourself, protect your bubble and your family, and the way to do that is through vaccination,” Hawkinson said. “It will become more and more evident as time goes on. We know vaccinations are extremely safe and the benefits they offer significantly outweigh any risks at all.”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.