As some areas of the country begin to see an increase in cases of COVID-19, some doctors are ignoring people they deem unworthy of life. Others are fighting tooth and nail to save everyone they can — even preborn children. The Wall Street Journal featured Adriana Rice-Leiva’s battle with the coronavirus, and Dr. Tracey Dechert’s successful fight to save her.
Rice-Leiva was just 31 when she contracted COVID-19. She was also nearly eight months pregnant. As the virus raged through her body, she was placed into a medically induced coma, breathing through a ventilator, so doctors could save not only Rice-Leiva, but her preborn child.
Dechert, according to the Wall Street Journal, would check on her as she made rounds, and made a promise to herself. “She is going to make it, damn it,” Dechert said. “We’ve gotta get her through this.” Rice-Leiva had only gone out to go grocery shopping, and her family—her husband, Bryan, and a 63-year-old aunt—took precautions the best they could. But in April, she came down with a fever, struggled to breathe, and stopped feeling her baby move. She was quickly admitted at Boston Medical Center, one of the first patients there to catch the virus.
COVID-19 patients had filled the ICU, and many of the medical staff pinned their hopes that Rice-Leiva would recover. “When you would find one where there was hope, you’d be holding on to it for dear life,” Dechert explained. Dechert, as a trauma surgeon and the ICU director, is no stranger to difficult circumstances—and she was determined to save Rice-Leiva. Originally, it seemed Rice-Leiva had turned a corner, and was even sent home. But then her symptoms returned after just two days, and she got worse. When all of their treatments didn’t work, Rice-Leiva finally agreed to go on a ventilator and into the medically-induced coma, something she had been dreading.
Even in a coma and with a ventilator, Rice-Leiva was fighting to breathe, her lungs damaged and filled with fluid. “You can give as much oxygen as you want, but if the body doesn’t take it, it doesn’t matter,” Dechert explained. Complicating things was the simple fact that Rice-Leiva was pregnant; the staff knew they had two patients to save.
Aviva Lee-Parritz, the chief OB/GYN for Boston Medical Center, worked alongside Dechert to save Rice-Leiva and her baby. Ultimately, they had to take drastic action to save the baby, performing an emergency C-section on April 19th. Neither Rice-Leiva or her husband knew. “She was plateauing, and it was sort of like, ‘We can’t keep waiting,’” Dechert said. “We didn’t even know if she knew she had the baby.” A nurse had to FaceTime Rice-Leiva’s husband and show him pictures of their newborn son, Lucas, which were hanging in Rice-Leiva’s room; when he saw the picture in his unconscious wife’s room, he cried.
Things only got more dire, though. One of the nurses who worked in the ICU caught COVID-19 and passed away; the staff lined the hallways, touching the rails of her stretcher solemnly as they took her body away. Still Dechert fought for Rice-Leiva. “She better not frigging die,” she said. And once again, Rice-Leiva seemed to take a turn for the better, only to decline again. But Dechert would not give up. “She’s going to get off the vent. Just not today,” she vowed, adding,” She was living her normal life, and it’s not fair. It doesn’t hit everyone the same. That makes you angry.”
But then, on the last day of April, Dechert came to work to find Rice-Leiva’s room empty: she had woken up, was able to breathe off the ventilator, and had been moved to a regular floor. The staff lined the walls, clapping and cheering, as she used a walker while “Celebration” played. And despite all of their efforts, Dechert remained humble. “Her body recovered. We just helped her,” she said. “Did any of those meds work? Maybe. Did none work? Very possibly.”
On May 5, Rice-Leiva was finally able to hold Lucas. “I feel like a miracle,” she said.
The heroic efforts to save both Rice-Leiva and her baby have gained nationwide attention. And those efforts deserve to be applauded — but others, unfortunately, have not been so lucky. Michael Hickson, a quadriplegic man in Texas, died from COVID-19 after doctors refused to try to save him simply because he had a disability. Not everyone can be saved, but everyone deserves to at least be given the chance, to have medical staff like Dechert fighting every step of the way for them.
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