OAK HARBOR, Wash. — An Oak Harbor teenager is encouraging others her age to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after becoming seriously ill due to the virus.
When 16-year-old Kasey Welden found out she had COVID-19 over the summer, she thought there would be a simple solution.
"I didn't think much of it," Kasey said. "I figured I'd just fight it like a cold."
But Kasey's condition only got worse. Kasey's parents eventually had to take her to the emergency room where the gravity of the situation started to sink in for her dad, Chris.
"I thought it was just precautionary and before I knew it she's being flown via helicopter to Seattle," said Chris. "That's when things got really scary."
While at Seattle Children's Hospital, Kasey developed a hole in her lung, which eventually collapsed.
"The levels of scariness just kept climbing and climbing," said Chris.
Kasey's oxygen level kept dropping so doctors put her on a machine called an extracorporeal membrane oxygenator, or ECMO. It's considered a last resort for COVID-19 patients.
"It was surreal," continued Chris. "I couldn't believe it had gotten so bad so fast."
From her hospital bed, Kasey posted on Facebook urging people to get vaccinated, though she said she doesn't even remember making the posts due to her condition. After a month of fighting for her life in the ICU, Kasey finally got to go home.
Her dad now has a message for people who say contracting COVID-19 is no big deal.
"You'll see things out there that say there's a 99% survival rate. Well, this is what surviving looks like. A month in the hospital on life support. I just want people to put that into their decision making process," said Chris.
While Chris and his wife are vaccinated against COVID-19, Kasey was not because they'd seen headlines about the vaccine causing heart problems in kids.
A Harvard study found that the chances of a girl Kasey's age having heart issues from a COVID-19 vaccine are nine in one million. The vast majority of those patients make a full recovery, according to the study.
The risk of an unvaccinated teenager getting seriously ill from COVID-19 are much higher. Yet, only 37% of 16 and 17 year olds are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Currently, only the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is approved to be used for people ages 12 and up. Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for those 18 and older.
Chris said now, looking back, he wishes he had dug a little deeper.
"Hindsight is 20/20. I definitely would have taken whatever small risk instead of having her go through the severe COVID pneumonia that she experienced," he said.
It's been seven weeks since Kasey's diagnosis, and she said she still isn't quite 100%. She said she plans to get her vaccination as soon as possible and will tell everyone she knows to do the same.
"No matter what, you never know how COVID will hit you," said Kasey. "Whether you're healthy or anything like that, it can get you. COVID is insane."