How Covid-19 Has Upended Life in Undervaccinated Arkansas

How Covid-19 Has Upended Life in Undervaccinated Arkansas


“It’s really discouraging to see younger, sicker patients,” Dr. Mette said. “We didn’t see this degree of illness earlier in the epidemic.”

Young, pregnant coronavirus patients were once rare at the hospital. But recently, four or five of them ended up in intensive care. Three were treated with a machine called ECMO — short for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — a step some consider a last resort after ventilators fail. The machine routes blood from the body and into equipment that adds oxygen, then pumps it back into the patient.

Ashton Reed, 25, a coordinator in a county prosecutor’s office, was about 30 weeks pregnant when she arrived at the hospital on May 26, critically ill. To save her life, doctors delivered her baby girl by emergency cesarean section, then hooked her up to the ECMO machine.

In a public service announcement later urging vaccination, her husband said she went from sinus trouble to life support in 10 days.

“I almost died,” she said. “My thoughts have definitely changed on the vaccine.”

Last month, the hospital had to reopen a coronavirus ward it had closed in late spring. On Monday, it reopened a second.

Many of the nurses there wore colorful stickers announcing they were vaccinated. Ashley Ayers, 26, a traveling nurse from Dallas, did not. Noting that vaccine development typically took years, she said she worried that the shot might impair her fertility — even though there is no evidence of that.

“I just think it was rushed,” she said.

David Deutscher, 49, one of her patients for nearly a week, is no longer a holdout. A heating and air conditioning specialist and Air Force veteran, he said he fought Covid for 10 days at home before he went to the hospital with a 105-degree fever.


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