Kelsey Townsend gave birth to her daughter Lucy at the end of October, but she doesn't remember the delivery — or much else that happened over the last three months. The mom of four contracted COVID-19 when she was 9 months pregnant and became so severely ill that she was put in a coma and on a ventilator prior to giving birth.
On Jan. 27, after spending months apart from her newborn daughter and family, Kelsey, 32, was finally discharged from the hospital. She finally got to meet Lucy, now 3 months old, for the first time.
"I have been waiting for a long time to meet her, and I was overjoyed," Kelsey told NBC News.
Kelsey tested positive for COVID-19 at the end of October, and despite having no preexisting conditions, she developed a severe case of the virus, with shortness of breath, coughing and pneumonia. When she arrived at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, her blood oxygen was in the 40% range, dangerously below normal oxygen levels of 95%.
There, doctors put her into a medically induced coma and delivered Lucy, who thankfully tested negative for COVID-19, via C-section on Nov. 4.
"Having the baby inside her is what kept her going. I've been told by doctors we were hours away from a different outcome that day we went in," her husband Derek, who also tested positive for COVID-19 along with their 8-year-old daughter, told Wisconsin Public Radio.
After giving birth, Kelsey's condition continued to decline, and she was put on a ventilator and ECMO life support machine and transferred to UW Health. In December, doctors determined that her lungs were so badly damaged that Kelsey would need a double lung transplant to survive.
"There wasn't a whole lot of certainty that she would come home. There were many nights that I got phone calls from the doctors saying they didn't think she was going to make it through the night — it was an emotional roller coaster," Derek told NBC News.
But days after Kelsey was put on the lung transplant waiting list, she started to improve. And in mid-January, after 75 days on the ECMO machine and a ventilator, she was able to come off of both. Her sudden recovery was a surprise to her doctors, who said that they "really don't completely understand why some people recover and others don't … or what triggers the lungs to all of a sudden start repairing and healing themselves in a way that allows us to make the progress we did," her doctor Daniel P. McCarthy, cardiothoracic surgeon at UW Health, told NBC News.
Kelsey was finally able to go home on Jan. 27, an emotional day for the family. The mom said holding Lucy for the first time was "amazing."
The Townsends, who are raising money for medical expenses on GoFundMe, don't know how they contracted COVID-19. Derek told Wisconsin Public Radio that they had food delivered, didn't see family and friends and wore masks. Their three older kids went to in-person school and Kelsey worked as an office manager, but Derek said she wasn't directly in contact with many people.
Kelsey is improving, but she needs assistance to walk and is on oxygen at all times. The family wanted to share their story as a warning to others to follow safety precautions and get vaccinated against COVID-19, which Derek called a "relentless and an invisible enemy."
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