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Family hopeful Missouri mom will come home soon after more than 100 days on ventilator


By Emily Rittman

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    KANSAS CITY, Missouri (KCTV) — For more than 150 days, a Missouri mom has fought to overcome COVID-19 and the toll it took on her body.

Gwen Starkey’s daughter says her mom has been on a ventilator for at least 130 of those days.

Because of an increase in Delta variant cases, the family says even though they are vaccinated they want to try to reduce risks. Starkey’s husband, Troy, visits her inside her hospital room while the rest of the family now visits through the window.

“Now we do our window visits as much as possible,” Starkey’s daughter Valerie Mills said.

On Tuesday, bright colored chalk art filled the sidewalk outside Starkey’s hospital window. Next to a drawing of a unicorn was the message, “You are magical!”

Starkey’s family members want her to know that she is never alone. Her grandson Kai peered through the glass Tuesday while his mom April Shaver held him in her arms.

“This is my life,” Shaver said. “This window with my mom inside there.”

Their new life began in February when Starkey was struggling to breathe. COVID-19 vaccines were not yet available to her. Several members of the family including Starkey contracted COVID-19 after a small family gathering.

Starkey went to the emergency room and hasn’t come back home ever since. She has overcome isolation, received an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment that pumps blood outside of your body to a heart-lung machine that then sends oxygen-filled blood back into the body.

It’s been a touch and go journey.

“Then the next day was collapsed lungs or internal bleeding or kidney failure,” Shaver said. “You would never know what the next day would bring so literally up until this point it’s been up and down.”

Mills says their mother still struggles to lift her arms and legs.

The family is celebrating a stretch of good days that included trials to wean Starkey off a ventilator moving her one step closer to coming home.

“I was preparing myself mentally for what life was going to be like without my mother,” Shaver said. “Now it’s preparing for life with my mother.”

Mills says her mom took care of her in 2018 when she was diagnosed with cancer. Now it’s her turn.

“I was sick,” Mills said. “She took care of me and she made me fight whereas now she’s sick.”

They are making plans and looking forward to the day that their once active and independent matriarch is out of the hospital.

“She’s going to be pretty much like on a pedestal for us,” Mills said.

Shaver says she cannot wait to see her mother pick up her son Kai once again.

“I want to just hold her and cry,” Shaver said. “That’s what I want to do and tell her how much I love her.”

On Tuesday, Shaver pointed to the sky and said, “Someone told me she’d be home by Christmas. So that’s my plan … Christmas. She is a fighter and that’s how we know she’s going to pull out of this.”

The family says they are incredibly grateful for every nurse and doctor who has helped Starkey. They say during their visits they’ve seen firsthand the long hours and work they put in day in and day out.

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