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Vail nurse survived COVID-19 to scale a mountain — and get vaccinated

Reaching the top of Mount Sherman, one of Colorado’s iconic 14’ers near Leadville, was a 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.

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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.

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“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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