Latina, who survived Covid while pregnant, urges expectant mothers to get vaccinated

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María Esther Roque Díaz cannot remember giving birth to her second son Dylan on December 28, 2020. She was passed out and received life support after contracting Covid-19 during her pregnancy.

But scars on her neck and torso remind her of the ordeal she survived to give birth to her “miracle baby”.

Less than a year later, the Salvadoran mother has a message for pregnant women, especially other Latinas: Get the Covid-19 vaccination.

“If I had had the vaccine while I was pregnant, I would have got it without thinking about it,” said Roque Díaz.

The 27-year-old contracted Covid-19 last year when she was six months pregnant and before Covid vaccines became available.

Roque Díaz felt seriously ill and exhausted after returning to her apartment on the eve of November 19, 2020.

“I couldn’t breathe. I lived on a second floor and I felt like I couldn’t even go up the stairs, ”said Roque Díaz in Spanish. “I asked Willian, my partner, to take me to the hospital. I couldn’t take it anymore. “

“I was so scared and worried about my baby,” she said.

Just more than 10 months after the start of the Covid-19 vaccine launch in the US a third of pregnant women nationwide, the vaccines have been received, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vaccination rates for Latinas and black mothers are even lower at 25 and 16 percent, respectively.

María Roque Díaz and Wilian Molina with their son Dylan.Meghan Borkowicz / University of Maryland Children’s Hospital

Roque Díaz has since been on the vaccine as she made a laborious recovery and absorbed the unthinkable – how close she and her son were to not making it. She urges other expectant mothers to get vaccinated and not to put themselves or their families in danger.

“I may be here with all this extra weight and all these scars,” she told NBC News, “but at least I’m here with my family and kids and enjoying them. But unfortunately other mothers who had cases similar to mine are not here with us. “

The CDC has more than reported 141,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in pregnant women, including more than 24,000 hospital stays and 218 deaths.

Surviving unimaginable risks

When she contracted Covid-19, Roque Díaz spent a few weeks in a local hospital before she was transferred to the University of Maryland Medical Center. She was hooked up to an extracorporeal life support machine known as an ECMO because her lungs couldn’t supply enough oxygen to keep her and her unborn baby alive.

According to Dr. Allison Lankford, an obstetrician and gynecologist who cared for Roque Díaz along with dozens of other doctors and nurses, the death rate of any patient plugged into an ECMO machine is slowly approaching 40 percent.

María Roque Díaz and her partner Wilian Molina hold their newborn son Dylan during a surprise baby shower organized by doctors and nurses from the University of Maryland Medical Center and the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital.Meghan Borkowicz

Covid-19 patients like Roque Díaz often need multiple medications and “lots of sedation,” Lankford said to ensure they are comfortable enough on the ventilator to avoid further lung injuries.

“They are unaware of their surroundings or what is happening to them,” said the obstetrician.

During the months Roque Díaz spent on the ECMO device, doctors worked with the intensive care team to “make decisions about how to continue pregnancy versus time of delivery,” Lankford said.

“That is certainly one of the toughest decisions,” she said. “We are constantly weighing the potential benefits of childbirth against the risk of premature birth for the fetus.”

Dylan was delivered by caesarean section at 32 weeks of age while Roque Díaz was unconscious. He weighed only 5 pounds.

“I just started crying”

Roque Díaz was told that she was bleeding more than usual during delivery, in part because she was taking blood thinners to prevent blood clots while she was connected to the ECMO machine.

Two days after her caesarean section, her stomach started swelling and doctors found that she was bleeding internally, said Roque Díaz. Although she was unaware of her surgery, she describes her scar, which extends from her chest to just below her waist.

When Roque Díaz remained conscious, Dylan’s neonatal intensive care nurses at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital took him to his mother’s room so he could be near her.

Roque Díaz missed holidays and birthdays when she recovered unconscious until after Valentine’s Day in February.

“When I first woke up, the first thing I saw was the big scar on my stomach. Then I got scared because I realized I couldn’t speak because I was intubated. So I just started crying, ”said Roque Díaz. “My heart started racing and I was sedated again.”

When Dylan was healthy enough to be released, the health care teams who had cared for him and Roque Díaz celebrated with a surprise baby shower.

“It was wonderful!” said Roque Díaz. “I realized what happened after seeing balloons in my hospital room and seeing Willian.”

Unmasking pregnancy and vaccination myths

All symptomatic and critically ill pregnant mothers admitted to the University of Maryland Medical Center intensive care unit are unvaccinated, according to Lankford.

“Unfortunately, the Latino population consists of a number of patients in the intensive care unit who are not vaccinated from pregnancy,” said the doctor.

Most pregnant women remain unvaccinated. Many pregnant patients are nervous about taking drugs, Lankford said, including well-known vaccines, including those for tetanus and diphtheria.

“Often times, patients have come a very long way to get pregnant and the last thing they want is anything that could potentially compromise it,” she said.

“The most important thing is just awareness and education,” Lankford said. The Covid-19 vaccine is not only safe,But the alternative of getting Covid has the potential to be much more harmful to both mother and pregnancy. “

Fertility concerns have also led women trying to get pregnant withhold vaccination, Lankford said.

“There really is no impact on fertility,” she said. “It’s actually safer to get vaccinated before you get pregnant.”

Meghan Borkowicz, a University of Maryland Children’s Hospital nurse who looked after Dylan, detains him during a visit to the family home.Courtesy Meghan Borkowicz

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC “strongly recommends a Covid-19 vaccination either before or during pregnancy, as the benefits of vaccination for both pregnant women and their fetus or infant outweigh the known or potential risks. “

“We know that in the United States alone, maternal mortality has increased. Unfortunately, this pandemic only contributed to that surge. To make a difference, we urge everyone to get vaccinated. Lanford said.

An older toddler who “didn’t know who I was”

Roque Díaz is now back at her Maryland apartment undergoing physical therapy after being bedridden for months.

She also reconnects with her eldest son, Emanuel, who was 2 years old when Roque Díaz was hospitalized.

“Now that I’m home, he’s calling me, ‘Hey, you,'” said Roque Díaz. “That was tough for me because he essentially didn’t know who I was. If he came near me to wear it, I had to explain to him that I couldn’t. I would tell him to please forgive me . “

Roque Díaz is also slowly trying to get back to work, at least part-time for the time being. She hopes to buy a house and a car while raising her family.

“I look forward to seeing my children grow up, get healthy and be with my family,” she said.

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