Blanca Rodriguez was overjoyed anticipating the October due date of her first daughter. But she came down with COVID-19 over the summer when she was seven months pregnant, and the Southern California woman was put on a ventilator.
The baby wasn’t getting enough oxygen and her life was in danger, so doctors made an agonizing decision: They performed a Caesarean section and baby Jade came into the world nearly three months early, at just 28 weeks.
The situation was dire for both mother and baby, and doctors did not know if they would survive, said Kanwaljeet Maken, one of the doctors who cared for Rodriguez in the intensive care unit of Loma Linda University Health in Loma Linda, Calif.
“It’s my nightmare when I get a pregnant patient in the ICU,” Maken said. “It’s stressful because you’re dealing with two lives at that time.”
Rodriguez’s symptoms came on suddenly and severely in late July, when she struggled to breathe and assumed it was because the baby was pressing on her ribs.
“It felt like somebody’s suffocating you,” said Rodriguez, 32, a stay-at-home mom who lives in Adelanto, Calif. “It felt horrible.”
Her husband, Josue Jimenez, 26, took Rodriguez to the hospital, where they later learned she was infected with the novel coronavirus. She doesn’t know how she contracted it. She was moved to the ICU, where doctors placed a tube in her throat to help her breathe.
Her condition got worse, and doctors knew they needed to induce a coma and place Rodriguez on a ventilator to help her survive. They arranged for a FaceTime call with her husband and two sons: Francisco, 8, and Alejandro, 6. They wanted to give the family the opportunity to say goodbye in case she didn’t survive, doctors said.
Rodriguez’s obstetrician, Courtney Martin — who has a baby girl at home — was holding the phone during the call so Rodriguez could see her children.
“My hands were shaking,” said Martin, adding that the situation was touch-and-go for both Rodriguez and her baby. “I was thinking, ‘I can’t let this woman die.'”
About 12 hours later, on July 27, Martin, medical director for maternity services at Loma Linda University Children’s Health, performed the emergency C-section.
She said it was the best chance of survival for both mother and baby. Baby Jade greeted the world with more than 20 medical professionals working to save her and her mom. Weighing just 2 pounds and 11 ounces, she was whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit.
Rodriguez remained in a coma for eight days. Hospital staff took photos of Jade and put them up around Rodriguez’s hospital room.
She was taken off the ventilator and awakened in early August. Her first words were asking about her baby. After she found out that Jade did not have the coronavirus and was in the NICU progressing, Rodriguez started to get stronger every day.
But Rodriguez was still fighting the virus. She was discharged in early August, though she remained ill and quarantined for several weeks at home. Her sons stayed at her mother’s house.
Finally, on Aug. 17, she got a negative coronavirus test and could meet her baby for the first time. She went to the NICU for the long-awaited reunion. Jade clutched her mother’s finger through a port on the incubator.
“We were all emotional,” Martin said.
Martin said she has seen about 10 pregnant women seriously ill with COVID-19 at Loma Linda, but it is rare for a pregnant woman to give birth in a coma.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to be hospitalized and more likely to need a ventilator than women who aren’t pregnant.
Nearly 21,000 pregnant women across the country had COVID-19 between Jan. 22 and Sept. 8, according to the CDC, and 44 of them died.
There is no evidence that the virus passes through the placenta from mother to baby, Martin said, but the disease can cause premature labor and raises the risk of blood clots, she said.
Maken, also a sleep-medicine specialist and pulmonologist, said she has seen many COVID-19 patients since June, including young patients who have died.
But baby Jade is doing well and growing in the NICU — as of Monday she weighed five pounds.
As Rodriguez prepares for her daughter’s homecoming, she walks with a cane and is getting physical therapy to help her recover. Doctors have said Jade might be allowed to go home around Oct. 15 — which was her original due date, and also Rodriguez’s birthday.
“I am blessed that I made it through and I am able to be with my kids and my baby,” said Rodriguez. “I’m just counting those days until I can bring her home.”
Jade’s brothers are eager for their new baby sister to come home, and her dad is stocking up on clothes and blankets for her, Rodriguez said.
Martin said when Jade goes home, it will be a triumph for Rodriguez and her doctors.
“It’s important to mention that Blanca is such a kind person and just an example of what most mothers are — willing to do anything to save their baby, and willing to sacrifice themselves,” she said.