Ag group urges farmers, ranchers to get COVID-19 vaccine
South Dakota’s farmers, ranchers and those who work on farms and ranches are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and South Dakota Farmers Union encourages agriculture producers to take advantage of this opportunity to protect themselves, their families and rural communities.
“This disease is no joke,” says Doug Sombke, SDFU president and a fourth-generation farmer. “Too many farm and ranch families have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Too many seats (were) empty this Easter. I am grateful there is a vaccine. We all need to get vaccinated so we can stop the spread of this deadly disease.”
Sombke is eager for his second vaccine dose. “I can’t wait to safely be in-person with our members again.”
Three South Dakota farm families recently shared what it is like when you or your family member is among the nearly 120,000 South Dakotans to contract this highly contagious virus.
Kolousek family, Wessington Springs, S.D., cattle producers
Before extreme body aches motivated Amber Kolousek to get tested for COVID-19 in September, 2020 was already proving to be a challenging year for the family.
In early August, Amber discovered she had 1B breast cancer. As she was undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatments, the family took extra precautions that would hopefully keep her from contracting COVID. They wore masks whenever they were in public, they stayed home from the State Fair, they sat alone in the church balcony on Sundays.
But as the pandemic swept through Wessington Springs in early September, it got into the Kolousek household. “No one had a fever. We did experience fatigue, headaches and stomachaches. The entire time we had it, I was concerned it would get worse,” says Amber. “Scott and I know we were fortunate.”
Kolousek continued weekly chemo treatments. On Jan. 6, she completed her last chemo treatment and had some good news. “I responded to treatments well. The doctor showed me my first MRI, where you can clearly see a huge lump. On the most recent MRI, you can’t see anything. It’s gone.”
Before her cancer journey is over, Kolousek will undergo two surgeries. “I’m not 100 percent out of the woods and I still do not have my energy back, but it is nice to be done with chemotherapy.”
Due to her cancer diagnosis, Amber received her COVID-19 vaccine earlier this winter. Scott has his second dose scheduled.
Schaunaman family, Aberdeen, S.D., crop and cattle producers
In February 2020, the Schaunaman family picked their 90-year-old mom, Hazel, up from the memory care assisted living home and took her and their dad, Don, out for a pancake breakfast after church. It was their 70th anniversary.
April 2021 finds the family is mourning the loss of Hazel due to COVID-19 and Don due to natural causes.
In November, Hazel contracted COVID and died. Her son, Kirk, says the family’s grief is compounded because due to COVID-19, Hazel and Don were not able to spend time together in the eight months leading up to her death.
“Mom did not understand why she could not see Dad. And, when it was the end, Dad was finally able to be with her, but because of COVID, she was unconscious. The fact he couldn’t talk with her is what is really tough. Dad did not get closure.”
Schaunaman’s daughter, Kelcy, reflected on what her Grandma Hazel meant to her in a February KELOland News interview. “She loved her family. She loved being on the farm. She loved bringing people around the table,” Kelcy says, adding that her grandmother spent many hours helping her and her cousins with their 4-H projects.
After the first of the year, Don received his COVID-19 vaccine. His family and friends are grateful they were able to spend the remaining months with his family.
Johnson family, Groton, S.D., crop and cattle producers
Even though Chad Johnson never gets sick and did not have any underlying health conditions, he and his family took the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. “We wore our masks everywhere. Michelle wore one to work. Brenna wore one to work. Porter wore one to school and I wore one every time I went to town to get parts,” Chad explains.
Unfortunately, not all employees and customers at Brenna’s work wore them. In early October, Brenna and several other co-workers came down with COVID.
The entire Johnson family got sick. At first it seemed like Brenna had the worst symptoms. “I had to wake Brenna up every three hours so we could nebulize her,” Michelle explains.
But then, Chad began complaining that he was short of breath. “I feel guilty because at first I just thought he had ‘man-flu.’ I didn’t think he was that sick — until he passed out on me. Then, I knew something was really wrong,” Michelle says.
Michelle took Chad into the clinic in Groton. They put him on oxygen and called the ambulance. Michelle followed the ambulance to Aberdeen. Because he had COVID, she could not join him in the emergency room.
She sat in the waiting room for five hours before she learned they were admitting Chad to the ICU. She was able to say goodbye before he was admitted. A few days later Chad contracted COVID pneumonia.
“The stuff your lungs fills up with is different than anything I’d ever seen. It is clear and sticky,” Chad says.
Three days later, Michelle got a call from the hospital. “They told us to say our goodbyes because they didn’t know if he was going to come through the night or not,” Michelle says. “After sitting with him for several hours, we had to go home. Then we had to wait at home all night — until the next morning to find out if he had made it through the night. It was pretty tough.”
The hospice nurse noticed that Chad’s willpower increased after spending time with his family, so because Michelle had already had COVID, the nurse advocated for Michelle to be able to spend a few hours each evening with Chad.
“This is one of the most challenging things I have ever gone through. Being able to see my wife is what got me through it,” Chad says.
He explains that there were times he felt his body wanting to give up. Seeing Michelle each evening was a daily reminder not to give up. “I saw my share of people who did not make it. I could see the elevator from my room, and I saw a lot of people who left the hospital not breathing.”
During his 40 days in the hospital, COVID caused blood clots to form on his lungs. There was a time when doctors asked if they wanted to try putting Chad on a ventilator. Because the odds were about the same, and those patients who are ventilated and make it have a much more difficult time recovering, they decided to not to ventilate.
“We thought if we’re going to have a 50/50 chance on a ventilator, why not take the 50/50 chance off the ventilator,” Michelle explains.
She says it was difficult to see people around her behaving like everything was normal, and not wearing masks while Chad was in the hospital fighting for his life.
“One day I was in Hobby Lobby getting some crafts to work on while I sat with Chad at night and an entire family was in line with me without masks. They were standing kind of close, the cashier finally asked them to back up. I turned around and said, ‘You may think that this does not affect you, and it may not, but it affects other people. Right now, my husband is in the hospital fighting to live because of this COVID.’”
Today, Chad has much praise for the team of healthcare workers who helped save his life. “I cannot thank the Avera team enough. They were so caring and so professional. Those nurses and doctors were working their tails off,” Chad says.
Chad was in the hospital Oct. 9 through Nov. 20. When the day finally came for him to go home, 50 healthcare workers lined the hospital hallway as one of Chad’s favorite nurses, wheeled him out the door. Today, Chad still tires easily. He was able to go off oxygen the second week in January.
He and Michelle continue to wear masks in public. The couple recently received their first vaccine dose. They are eager to get their second dose to be fully vaccinated, Chad explains.
“I don’t want to get this again. And it is possible. I just heard the other day from a friend in the medical field that they are seeing people get it a second time,” Chad says.
To learn about when and where you can access your COVID-19 vaccine, contact your healthcare provider, or visit https://doh.sd.gov/COVID/Vaccine/.