Berinda Wolitarsky, a substitute teacher in Snohomish schools who caught COVID-19 and was on a ventillator for 12 days in March 2020, gets her second vaccine shot Saturday morning at Snohomish High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Berinda Wolitarsky, a substitute teacher in Snohomish schools who caught COVID-19 and was on a ventillator for 12 days in March 2020, gets her second vaccine shot Saturday morning at Snohomish High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

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COVID survivor, teacher, walker, she’s grateful for each step

“I almost died, but people prayed for me,” says Berinda Wolitarsky, who’s back in Snohomish schools.

Over the past year of COVID, Berinda Wolitarsky has experienced it all.

As a coronavirus patient last March, she spent 12 days on a ventilator and nearly lost her battle to live.

As a survivor, she has walked more than 1,400 miles while she continues an intrepid journey to regain strength.

And as a substitute teacher in the Snohomish district, she’s been with students in eight schools during the pandemic, in person and leading classes on Zoom.

Now 63, Wolitarsky spent March 16-April 8, 2020, at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. Intubated and sedated for much of that time, her hospital memories are hazy. She had what she calls “delirium dreams” of traveling, and recalls one doctor telling her, “I was busy saving your life.”

“I was sleeping two-thirds of the time,” said Wolitarsky, who lives in the Snohomish area near Seattle Hill Elementary School. “I do remember them saying, ‘We’re going to put you on a ventilator.’ And I yelled, ‘No!’”

Since her recovery, along with her husband, Mark Wolitarsky, and their two grown children, she has shared her COVID story during a Sunday service at Mountain View Community Church in Snohomish. The family’s faith is a big part of that story.

Eve Rutherford (right) administers Berinda Wolitarsky’s second vaccine shot Saturday morning at Snohomish High School. After becoming ill with COVID-19 last year, Wolitarsky nearly lost her battle to live. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Eve Rutherford (right) administers Berinda Wolitarsky’s second vaccine shot Saturday morning at Snohomish High School. After becoming ill with COVID-19 last year, Wolitarsky nearly lost her battle to live. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

“I almost died, but people prayed for me,” she told the congregation during their testimonial last Sept. 13. “We were never alone in this,” added daughter Myrinda Wolitarsky, 24, who through phone calls and social media kept church members, loved ones and friends up to date on her mother’s condition.

It all began March 13, 2020. Berinda Wolitarsky had what she thought was a bad cold, but it was diagnosed as double pneumonia. She was given a COVID test, and went home with antibiotics. That medicine didn’t work, and by March 16, 2020, she had gone to the hospital emergency room. Myrinda, who had to leave her mother there, remembers thinking, “Will I get to see my mom again?”

Two days later, on March 18, the coronavirus test came back positive and Wolitarsky was in the ICU.

Mark Wolitarsky, in their church presentation, spoke of dark times. He couldn’t see his wife and feared the worst.

“It was scary, it was very scary,” he said. “On those worst days, she’s on 80% life support and the doctors are saying she’s not going to make it,” daughter Myrinda agreed.

Mark, 67, said he was asked by doctors if his wife had a living will, and about palliative care and other options if she didn’t get better. He recalled praying, “Moses-style, with my hands in the air,” on March 31, the day she was taken off the ventilator.

Myrinda also remembered that day of extubation, which was tense because the outcome wasn’t known. “I got a call from the hospital — your mom wants to say hi,” she said. Then came her mother’s raspy voice — a miraculous one-word “Hi.”

Prayers, the family said, came from all over the world. Berinda Wolitarsky has relatives in Germany. Her late father, Ernst Brockmann, was a longtime German teacher at Cascade High School, Everett High and Evergreen Middle School. Brockmann, who had grown up in World War II-era Germany, died Aug. 25 at age 89.

Raised by an educator, Wolitarsky has spent her career as a chemistry teacher and math tutor. As a substitute this year, she has taught at eight schools, online and in person. She’s taught special education in high school and middle school, English at Glacier Peak High School, and with elementary students as young as second grade.

On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that all public school districts in Washington must provide at least two days of on-campus instruction weekly by April 5 for kindergarten through sixth grade, and by April 19 for those in seventh through 12th grade. Under an emergency proclamation he said he’d issue this week, students will have the option of continuing with remote learning.

Wolitarsky, who was scheduled to get her second Moderna vaccine against COVID-19 Saturday at Snohomish High School, said in-person teaching has gone smoothly.

“I say to parents, I totally do feel safe,” she said. “Temperatures are taken and everybody wears masks. I feel very protected.”

Her recovery began “with baby steps in the right direction,” Wolitarsky said. On the day she was taken off the ventilator, “I couldn’t hold my head up, I was like a baby.”

“I could speak a little and hear people, but that is about it,” she said. With the help of physical therapy, she could walk with a walker, eat and drink, use the restroom and dress herself by the time she came home April 8. At home, she had several nurse and physical therapy visits.

“My physical therapist told me the best thing I could do was to walk. So I did,” she said.

On April 16, 2020, she made it a half-mile. Now, she shoots for four miles a day. By last week, she’d logged more than 1,400 miles, and hadn’t missed a day of walking since April 20, 2020.

Out walking, she remembers Scripture that helped see her through. Psalm 46:10 says “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Her goal is 1,500 miles. Wolitarsky has a target date: April 8, a year from the day she left the hospital using a walker.

Julie Muhlstein: jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com

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