On Sept. 10, 29-year-old Samantha Wendell passed away after suffering from COVID-19 bilateral pneumonia. The Kentucky woman was admitted into a hospital on Aug. 9 and never left. Wendell was set to be married on Aug. 21 to Austin Eskew. Instead, Wendell spent that day intubated on a ventilator. The two had been engaged since 2019. Wendell was a surgical technician in Grand Rivers and the wedding was to take place at the same Illinois church where her parents had been married. Wendell’s family held her funeral at the church a few days after she passed.
Even more tragically, both Wendell and her fiancé were set to be immunized against COVID-19 shortly before their wedding day. Eskew told reporters that he and Wendell had hesitated and put off getting vaccinated against the virus because of misinformation concerning vaccines and fertility loss in women. “At one point in time, I believe it came from one of her friends to be honest, it could have been something she saw on Facebook because it pops up everywhere on there, but it was about fertility loss. We wanted to have a family. That’s why we were hesitant at first.”
Besides seeing debunked social media claims about vaccines, NBC News reports that some of Wendell’s coworkers had asserted the same poisonous ideas, reinforcing both she and her boyfriend’s trepidation about getting vaccinated. As the The Washington Post reported back in February, this miscarriage/fertility rumor was not confined to social media but was able to invade medical circles. And while there may not be a single anti-vaxxer claim about any vaccine that hasn’t been debunked, it’s harder to parse through things when you are getting it attested to by people you believe are professionals. The claim that fertility was negatively affected by COVID-19 vaccines, or that rates of miscarriages of pregnant folks who were vaccinated were higher, have all been painstakingly fact checked and debunked.
Eskew says Wendell began showing symptoms a day after returning from a bachelorette trip to Nashville, Tennessee, at the end of July. What started as a cough got worse, and Eskew convinced Wendell to get tested at work, which she did. She and Eskew were set to be vaccinated less than a week later, and instead both tested positive for COVID-19. According to FOX 32 Chicago, none of the other women on the bachelorette trip tested positive for the virus. Eskew also tested positive, but says he just ran a fever for a couple of days before feeling better again. “It didn’t really hit me nearly as hard, but she just had the constant cough so she was finding it hard to catch her breath, so we decided it was time to go and just get it checked out.”
At the hospital, Wendell was first kept overnight because her oxygen levels were not good. Subsequently, doctors diagnosed her pneumonia. Wendell’s health deteriorated quickly. Eskew details the nightmare scenario that followed: “She started having panic attacks throughout that week, and then come the 16th, she was having so much that she was losing too much oxygen from it, so they had to put her on a ventilator.”
On Aug. 31, Wendell’s aunt Denise Picicci wrote on Facebook, “Please pray for my niece as she is fighting for her life. She has been on a ventilator for almost 2 weeks. Please consider getting vaccinated for I would never want any family or friends to endure what is happening to my niece right now and to her family and friends. No one can visit, no one to hold her hand and talk to her and give her encouragement to fight this.”
Wendell would never regain the ability to breath on her own. On Sept. 9, a CT scan revealed that Wendell’s lungs were damaged beyond repair as she continued to suffer from pneumonia. Her family was given the devastating news that she would never recover. On Sept. 10, the ventilator was removed and Samantha Wendell passed away.
Picicci posted this piece in the weeks after Samantha’s passing.
Her cousin, Maria Vibandor Hayes, who lives in New Orleans and had to say goodbye to Samantha through a FaceTime, told NBC: “Misinformation killed her. If we can save more lives and families’ lives, then this is the gift that she left for us to deliver.” Hayes also posted a very moving tribute to her cousin.
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You can read about the origins of the rumor that helped take Samantha’s life here.
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