NISKAYUNA – Niskayuna resident and businesswoman Maya McNulty spent more than two months hospitalized with COVID and years working toward healing from the ordeal.
That experience has inspired her to help others whose lives have been ravaged by the virus.
“I’ve been in marketing for the past 15-20 years of my life and I finally feel like because I have that voice, I get to use it for good,” McNulty said. “A lot of people think that marketing is just an enticement to be able to get you to buy that one thing. And it’s true but you can use it for good.”
She recently helped to push for legislation that would establish a COVID-19 higher education scholarship fund for children whose parent, primary caretaker or sibling died or was disabled as a result of contracting COVID-19.
The effort is part of a push by the national group COVID Survivors for Change, and McNulty is the captain of the New York chapter. Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, introduced the bill (A.4892) earlier this month, just about three years after COVID began spreading in the state.
“New Yorkers have a history of supporting each other during difficult times and this measure carries on that tradition. I will continue fighting to ensure that children who lost a parent or caretaker to COVID-19 have access to the resources they need to thrive,” Santabarbara said.
According to COVID Survivors for Change, at least 15,000 children in the state were left with one fewer parent, caretaker or sibling because of the pandemic.
“That number continues to rise,” McNulty said.
Nationally, there are more than 240,000 children without a parent or caregiver because of the virus, according to a report by the National Institutes of Health. The agency also reported that Black and Latino children are 2.5 times more likely to have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID than white children.
“It’s a huge problem. And so this scholarship bill for kids is going to help. It’s the least we can do because this pandemic was not their fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault and we need to take care of them. It’s a duty as an American to watch out for our children,” she continued.
“An impactful way we can remember and honor those lost in the pandemic is by supporting the families they’ve left behind, especially their children,” Santabarbara said.
The bill was referred to the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee. He added that he’s seeking a partner in the state Senate to sponsor the legislation. It’s unclear how much the scholarship program would cost.
COVID Survivors for Change is also pushing to create a baby bonds program, which would set up interest-bearing savings accounts for children who have lost a parent to the virus. States like California have recently introduced baby bond programs.
“This is something that needs to be done,” McNulty said.
The scholarship bill is still in committee and has a ways to go before it’ll be passed, especially as budget negotiations are ongoing. However, McNulty has high hopes for it moving forward within the next year.
In the meantime, she has plenty of other COVID-related initiatives to work on. She also runs an online program called COVID Wellness Clinic, where she encourages those dealing with the effects of COVID and long COVID, which McNulty said she’s struggled with for years.
She was one of the first young women in the Capital Region to be hospitalized with the virus in 2020 and, though she had no prior medical conditions, spent 30 days in a medically induced coma and six weeks on a ventilator. After being hospitalized for a total of 69 days, first at Ellis Hospital and then at Sunnyview, more health problems arose.
“I ended up losing my voice right after that for 10 months and all my hair and I didn’t have my ability to walk. And so I ended up not being able to drive for 17 months,” McNulty said.
She’s also dealing with neuropathy and brain fog. Her lungs are at 70% capacity, according to McNulty. In September 2022, she was hospitalized with a second bout of COVID, this time with the Omicron variant.
“I wrote COVID Wellness Clinic, the online care program because I knew that other people were going through what I was going through and I figured if I could give them actual videos and hope, and [a sense of] ‘this is what recovery looks like,’” McNulty said.
She recently recognized the first International Long COVID Day on social media with fellow “long haulers” as they refer to themselves.
“We are sick well. I look well. I sound well, powerful [and] resilient. But medically I am very sick. I have 50 of the long COVID symptoms,” McNulty said. “I always say I was struck or marked by COVID as opposed to being a survivor of COVID Because we’re not thriving. We are long COVID patients still, three years later.”
Through COVID Wellness Clinic, McNulty is also working with colleges and universities studying the virus and is also hoping to partner with local colleges to help build wellness programs for
students and faculty.
She was recently selected as one of the New York State Assembly Women of Distinction Honorees.
“Maya is a successful businesswoman, author and community advocate. Her work creating opportunities for people to follow their dreams in the business world is inspirational,” Santabarbara said in a statement. “As a COVID survivor, she now works to help others by ensuring those that were lost to the COVID-19 pandemic are not forgotten and by advocating for those that COVID left behind.”
Her work will be celebrated on Thursday evening in a virtual ceremony.
“Never in a million years would I have thought this would be my reality,” McNulty said of the advocacy work she’s been doing lately.
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