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Vail Respiratory Therapist Survived COVID-19 to Scale a Mountain — and Get Vaccinated

This article first appeared in the Denver Post on December 16, 2020.

Julie Scales, lead respiratory therapist at Vail Health Hospital, left, is teary-eyed as she gets a hug from her co-worker Hailey Van Duzer, right, also a respiratory therapist, after being the first one at the hospital to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on December 16, 2020.

Reaching the top of Mount Sherman, one of Colorado’s iconic 14’ers near Leadville, was long a goal for Julie Scales. She finally made the journey this summer — a trip made sweeter because she had survived COVID-19 just a few months earlier. Not only had she survived, but she survived after spending 7 days on a ventilator.

Scales, 59, is the lead respiratory therapist at Vail Health Hospital and this week became the first person at Vail Health Hospital to be administered the COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is a very emotional moment for me,” Scales said. “The past 10 months have been a very long and personal journey, as it has been for all of our COVID-19 patients, healthcare staff and our entire community.”

Scales was admitted into Vail Health Hospital’s emergency department on March 14 and after just 24 hours, was moved to a Denver area hospital where she was put on a ventilator.

“It was so early in the days of the virus that it never crossed my mind that I might have it,” she said. “I had been working a lot and chalked it up to long hours at the hospital.”

Despite treating thousands of ventilated patients over the years, being a patient herself, often all alone in that room, is something she will never forget.

“I knew what was coming down the path for me,” she said. “It is not lost on me just how lucky I am.”

Scales recovered fully from the virus and went back to work, helping treat others battling COVID-19.

“I hope that by getting the vaccine today it shows our community the trust as a healthcare professional that I, and others at Vail Health, have in the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine,” she said. “Once the vaccine is available to you, I encourage everyone to get it, not just for yourself but for your loved ones.”

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