Pregnant with COVID, she survived a nightmare – the Orange County Register

Pregnant with COVID, she survived a nightmare – the Orange County Register

Amy Yamaguchi met her daughter when the infant was five months old.

This is because Yamaguchi was in a coma and suffering from COVID-19 at the time of the caesarean section.

And that’s just part of the story.

The Seal Beach resident would soon become the first COVID-19 patient at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to undergo a dual lung transplant. She was also one of the hospital’s first COVID patients to be placed on a life support machine, often described by experts as a “Hil Mary.”

Danny Levin with wife, Amy Yamaguchi and daughter, Maren, 1, from Seal Beach, on January 5, 2022. In December 2020, Yamaguchi was 36 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with Covid-19, and Maren was born by caesarean section, although she would not meet her until in five months. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register / SCNG)

Yamaguchi suffered a series of mini-strokes. And she had to learn to walk again. At one point, her feet were put in plaster so she could again push flat against the ground.

In August, after about eight months in hospitals and a rehab center, Yamaguchi took home.

Since then, every week has brought a new milestone. And as she has settled into life with her husband Danny Levin and their daughter, Maren Marie, Yamaguchi has developed a strong understanding of things that are easy to take for granted.

“Just being home is a joy. Just sitting at the table with the family, ”she said. “Now we have an extra member. It has been nice to be a mother.”

“We are falling back to what life should be.”

When COVID-19 hit

On December 1, 2020, the day she tested positive for COVID-19, Yamaguchi was nearly 36 weeks pregnant. She and her husband had been careful to wear face masks and follow safety precautions, but at the time there was not yet a vaccine and the pandemic was evolving into what would become a deadly winter wave.

For several days, Levin monitored Yamaguchi and tracked her increasingly severe symptoms. When her oxygen level dropped dangerously low, he took her to the Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley.

Due to health protocols in force at the time, Levin and Yamaguchi could not visit face to face. Two days after she was admitted before her acute birth, they texted and chatted on their cells.

“We told each other we loved each other and said we would soon see each other with the whole family,” Levin said.

So … silence.

“That was the last time I talked to Amy until February.”

The delivery of the caesarean section brought a healthy baby – and marked the beginning of Yamaguchi’s coma.

Doctors believed the surgery would help Yamaguchi heal faster by freeing up space for her lungs. It did not. Soon, Maren was sent home with her father, and Yamaguchi was aired to Cedars-Sinai.

The future looked potentially dark.

“Who is this guy?”

Around mid-January, while on life support at Cedars-Sinai, Yamaguchi began to emerge from her coma.

She was strapped to a hospital bed that could be made vertical as a way to help her regain her strength. Even though she was still on a respirator, she managed to talk around. The food was delivered via a tube, first through the nose and later through the stomach.

In March, Yamaguchi, with the help of a favorite nurse, arranged to give her husband an anniversary gift from the hospital’s gift shop. It was a T-shirt, adorned with the name of the hospital, made of cotton, the traditional material for a third anniversary.

“She’s fighting for her life, on life support, and she’s still giving me an anniversary gift,” Levin says.

While Yamaguchi’s “fresh personality” came back, physical problems remained. A blood clot formed in her arm for one. And her lungs still did not work.

Doctors had placed her on a machine known as ECMO, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, which pumps a patient’s blood out of their body, through an artificial lung and back in again.

At the time, the length of her treatment was rare for the hospital’s COVID patients. Patients placed on ECMO are usually treated for a maximum of a few weeks; Yamaguchi was at ECMO for 119 days.

Still, her lungs did not get better.

Dominic Emerson, her chief physician at Cedars-Sinai, described her lungs as fibrotic, meaning they were unable to expand as normal lungs do.

“A normal lung should feel like a marshmallow. These felt like a piece of school leather,” said Emerson, associate surgical director of Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support at the Smith Heart Institute.

In April, Yamaguchi became the hospital’s first COVID patient to undergo a lung transplant. Nationally, Emerson said, more than 200 COVID patients have received lung transplants.

Why COVID hit Yamaguchi as hard as it did is unknown.

“She was a completely healthy, normal, 35-year-old active woman,” Emerson said. “That is why it is important for people to be vaccinated. You might think that because you are young, you want to be safe. But unfortunately I have seen a lot of people who are young and got really sick and died of Covid. ”

Yamaguchi’s pregnancy may have been a factor, “but we do not know,” Emerson said. According to the Centers for Disease Control, pregnant women are “more likely to get seriously ill with COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant people.”

Doctors called her recovery remarkable, a testament to the power of technology and the evolving ways in which health technology is being used to save lives during the pandemic.

During the transplant operation, Yamaguchi suffered a mini-stroke. They, in turn, affected her memory.

When she came out of the operation, Yamaguchi said she asked her mother a question:

“Who is this guy hanging out with the nurses?” She said, ‘Amy, this is your husband.’

“I said, ‘Am I married?'”

Her mother then asked her daughter if she knew her age. Yamaguchi, 35 at the time, said she was 22.

“I was a little away.”

Yamaguchi quickly found out that she was not only married, she also had a baby.

Still, while some memories came back, others did not.

“I do not remember being pregnant with Maren,” Yamaguchi said. “Some things get better when I watch videos and pictures, but I can not remember the stomach.”

Meet her baby

After the operation in April, Yamaguchi left ECMO. But she remained in a ventilator, which was still needed to pump oxygen into her body.

Over the next two months, she slowly got better.

Even small things turned into mini-parties.

“She reached up and scratched her nose, and she did so without thinking,” Levin said. “I remember I was so happy about it.”

In May, a few days before Mother’s Day, Yamaguchi saw the Maren for the first time.

Yamaguchi was in a wheelchair on the hospital floor, still using an oxygen tank and a ventilator.

And she was nervous. She had missed the first mother-child bond. She was worried about how her daughter would react.

“I felt like I was going on a date. Will she like me?”

“But then I met her and everything fell into place,” Yamaguchi said. “It sounds cliché, but it was like love at first sight.”

Then Sundays became baby day for Yamaguchi. The rest of the week was filled with therapy – physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy. But Sunday was set aside for “Maren therapy.”

“It was the best therapy,” Yamaguchi said.

On June 1, doctors removed the tube in her trachea that had helped her breathe. Later that month, she was transferred to a rehab center, where she walked for the first time since a coma: eight steps on the first day.

On August 3, Yamaguchi went home.

Danny Levin with wife, Amy Yamaguchi and daughter, Maren, 1, from Seal Beach, on January 5, 2022. In December 2020, Yamaguchi was 36 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with Covid-19, and Maren was born by caesarean section, although she would not meet her until in five months. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register / SCNG)

Since then, she has continued the therapy and continued to make progress. She went from using a walker and wheelchair to a cane to walking on her own. It was a huge deal to pick up Maren alone.

Wednesday, January 5, marked another milestone: “Today was the first day I got her out of her crib and changed her.”

“I’m fine,” she added. “Make big improvements.”

The couple walks back and forth between their home in Seal Beach and her parents’ home in Garden Grove. Levin, 35, works online as a teacher for a charter school. And Yamaguchi, a former customer service representative for hemophilia treatment centers, focuses his energy on his health and on being a mother.

The couple is aware of the fast, easy spread of the Omicron variant, and they rarely go out. And when they do, they wear face masks. Both have been vaccinated.

“We have not really gone anywhere,” Yamaguchi said. Instead, she enjoys spending time with her daughter and family.

“I have to give myself the grace and forgiveness that life did not go as we had planned. Now I have a lot of time with her. “

Last month, the couple celebrated Maren’s first birthday. The party was very small. The theme was Alice in Wonderland.

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