Critically-ill pregnant Covid patient lives to tell her story with a new baby
Kim Mi-na is proof that miracles can still happen even in the middle of a pandemic.
On Christmas Day, the 39-year-old celebrated her daughter turning 100 days old. The milestone was extra special for Kim, as she had to undergo serious medical treatment for about two months while she was pregnant with her daughter.
Kim was first confirmed positive for Covid-19 on June 2. Being seven months pregnant, she was immediately labeled as a high-risk patient and moved to Bagae Hospital in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi. Soon after she was checked in at hospital, her parents, sister and 3-year-old son were also all found to be infected with the virus. Including Kim, they all had pneumonia-like symptoms and had to receive oxygen therapy.
Kim's condition deteriorated rapidly within just a week of being hospitalized. Rejected by two larger hospitals, she was eventually moved to Seoul National University Hospital and was immediately connected to an artificial respirator to address her acute respiratory failure.
She received treatment for 16 hours in the prone position so as to not put pressure on her lungs. Adding to the complications, however, the medical team also had to accommodate her pregnant stomach so as not to hurt the baby. The medical team, not well acquainted with the treatment method of laying a patient in the prone position, had to watch videos made by other experts overseas to proceed. Kim had to receive the treatment three times.
“The pressure was doubled because we were taking care of two lives,” said chief nurse Lee Eun-jun, adding that Kim was the first pregnant woman infected with Covid-19 to get treated in a prone position while being connected to the artificial respirator at the Seoul National University Hospital.
But Kim’s condition continued to worsen. A week after she came to the Seoul National University Hospital on June 16, the medical team decided to start extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) as a last resort. Kim again became the Korea's first coronavirus-infected pregnant woman to receive the treatment. Globally, she was the third infected pregnant person to use the treatment.
ECMO is a life support machine that is used during the final stages for the sickest patients and provides respiratory support for those whose lungs cannot function alone.
Soon after the treatment began, the medical team warned Kim’s husband that it may be good to prepare himself for the worst-case scenario. The husband recalled that every day was like hell.
“Even about 15 days after starting ECMO, nothing seems to have changed much,” the husband said. “It seems like there is a very low chance of her recovering.”
Then, on July 2, Kim's 17th day of ECMO, she woke up from her slumber. She promptly was taken off of the ECMO treatment. The medical team thanked her for fighting to stay alive.
“When you are out for a long time under the ECMO, some show delirium. But Kim woke up smiling,” the chief nurse Lee said.
If a patient stays under this treatment for a long time, there is a high chance of the patient suffering from an aftereffect.
“Her strong mind and cheerful personality combined with her strong maternal instinct all worked together to [help her wake her up in a better condition,]” Lee said.
Soon after, she tested negative for Covid-19 and the medical team helped her freshen up a bit before moving her to the intensive care unit of the department of internal medicine. She was still relying on the artificial respirator when she was moved, but nine days later, she was able to move to the general ward in much better condition.
Then, on July 26, the artificial respirator was removed. She left the hospital on July 29, about two months after she first tested positive.
Throughout the entire two-month-long treatment, Kim's baby continued to grow. She came back to the hospital and gave birth to her daughter, 3.4 kilograms (7.5 pounds), on Sept. 17. Both are healthy.
Kim sent a thank-you letter to her medical team for Christmas, sharing a photo of her healthy daughter.
“I’m so thankful for the support I received from so many different medical experts, and I will forever remember the love and share the love I got,” Kim said in her letter. “I worry about the medical team as I see the growing number of critically-ill Covid-19 patients every day.”
Another nurse Lee Dong-hyeok told the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, over the phone on Christmas Eve that Kim’s recovery “was like a miracle.”
Another husband of a seven-months pregnant woman infected with the virus contacted Kim after hearing her story, as his wife had to get ECMO as well. Kim said she told the husband to not worry too much.
“I hope [the story] of our family works as hope for many who suffer from Covid-19,” she said.
“I am only human, so at one point I was really angry about all this happening to me and my family,” Kim said. “I hope [those who suffer from the infection] get treatment and get back to find their ordinary happiness.”
BY SHIN SUNG-SIK [firstname.lastname@example.org]