CONCORD, NH (AP) – After childbirth, most new mothers can not wait to see their baby.
For Macenzee Keller, it would take more than two months as she fought for her life against COVID-19 while undergoing sedation and breathing using machines.
Mother and child were reunited on Feb. 3 when Keller’s mother brought the healthy, 11-pound, 13-ounce baby boy named Zachery to her hospital bed.
“It was very emotional because I was thinking, ‘Oh, I finally got to see my baby, who I waited so long to see,'” said Keller, who has since returned to Manchester, New Hampshire.
Two weeks before her appointment on December 7, Keller was diagnosed with COVID-19. She remembers leaving her apartment for the hospital on November 27 when she was suffering from shortness of breath – and that was it.
Her son, Zachery, was born the next day via emergency caesarean section at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester. She was anesthetized and intubated at the time.
She was later transferred to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in the city of Lebanon.
Keller – still anesthetized, still very ill – was put on a specialized blood oxygenation treatment. Blood was pumped out of her body into an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, abbreviated ECMO, which removes carbon dioxide and then pumps the blood back into the body.
“People like Macenzee who are younger and have a really good chance of getting better – she’s kind of the perfect candidate for us to offer it,” said Ciaran Moloney, a nurse who was part of her care team at Dartmouth- Hitchcock.
There have been other cases of expectant mothers who were so ill with COVID-19 that they had to give birth quickly. In Wisconsin, a mother was in a medically-induced coma with the virus when she gave birth to his daughter via cesarean section in November 2020. She ended up spending 75 days on life and lung support. She met her daughter over two months later when she was discharged from the hospital.
Keller was on the ECMO circuit for 47 days. Patients usually receive the treatment for closer to a month or less, Moloney said. One of the doctors who handled her treatment had read research that said recent post-partum patients benefit from longer time at ECMO, he said.
It was touch and go at times. Keller was still connected to a fan.
“I would come in a few days and she would take bigger breaths and then she would get setbacks,” Moloney said. “She had a series of setbacks while on the ECMO circuit. … There were times when we were very scared of how she was doing.”
Keller’s mother, Brandi Milliner, received phone updates from Moloney. She and family members attended Zoom calls with her daughter during the holidays “just so she could hopefully still hear us and know she was loved and we were still there.”
She finally got to visit Keller on January 7th.
“They were getting used to some of the anesthesia. So I could go in and say her name, and she opened her eyes a little bit, little commands, which she followed,” Milliner said. “By the end of my visit, she had actually a little squeezed my hand a few times. So it was a great feeling. ”
Keller continued to improve over the next few weeks and was eventually taken off the equipment. It took her a while to realize where she was when she came to.
“Do you know it like when you fall asleep somewhere and then you wake up in a new place? And you’re like, ‘Wow!’ That was kind of how I felt, “Keller said.
It was not so long after that she was able to move around with a walker and continued to improve.
Keller was not vaccinated against COVID-19, and says she planned to wait until after she was born to get the shot. She had heard that some people feel sick for a day after receiving the vaccine, “and I was just nervous that if I got it, it would cause complications for Zachery.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for people who are pregnantand that the benefits of receiving the vaccine outweigh any known or potential risks of vaccination during pregnancy.
Doctors told Keller she will have to wait a few more weeks before she can be vaccinated now.
In hindsight, when asked if she would have made the same choice, she said, “I do not know. Part of me says I would have gotten the vaccine, but then another part of me still says, that I would not risk anything. ”
Keller, who is engaged to be married, still uses a pulse oximeter to measure his oxygen level in the blood and has additional therapy appointments to help walk. But her recovery is considered amazing, Moloney said.
“She went from being completely dependent on the ECMO pump to being fully interactive within just a few weeks,” he said.
He added: “My wife, we found out she was pregnant at about the same time, and it just made it very emotional for me to see everything Macenzee went through.”
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.