AUSTIN (KXAN) — Carolina Martinez remembers being rushed to the hospital.
It was April 28.
She was in her second trimester of pregnancy and had been diagnosed with COVID-19 after getting a fever and feeling fatigued.
But after that, it’s a blur.
“I was intubated,” said the mother of three from Bastrop, Texas. “I kind of woke up on June 2 thinking it was still April 28. I was not aware that, you know, a whole month had gone by. So I don’t remember much.”
Dr. Jeny Ghartey, the maternal medical director at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin, explained that by the time Martinez was transferred to her team from another hospital, she had already been on a breathing machine.
“I want to be really clear: What’s going on with coronavirus and the delta variant, it is rapidly spreading,” said Ghartey. “The patients that I’ve had to take care of like Caro [Martinez] are similarly, young, healthy, have no problems, and they’re devastatingly ill.”
Cost of not getting vaccinated
Martinez, 32, who goes by Caro, said she was not vaccinated. She said it was because of “ignorance and fear.”
“Had I gotten vaccinated, I wouldn’t be in this position that I am now,” she said. “If you can use me as an example as to how not to do things, please do and go get vaccinated if you can for you and your family.”
She gathered her strength so she could share the urgent message, at times coughing and needing a few seconds to catch her breath.
“I think that there’s a lot of misleading information out there. People need to really do their own research and listen to healthcare professionals rather than people posting things on Facebook that might not be true,” said Martinez. “I thought COVID wasn’t going to affect me. So I didn’t take the measures that I needed to take in order to stay healthy. And then here I am.”
OB-GYNs in Central Texas explained to KXAN that they’re seeing an uptick in the number of pregnant women hospitalized with the virus.
Ghartey said in the last three weeks, she’s treated more pregnant women with COVID-19 who are much sicker than earlier on in the pandemic.
“They’re needing oxygen right away as opposed to coming in with some of the more milder symptoms at first,” Ghartey said.
She said she didn’t want to speak on the specific number of pregnant women who have been hospitalized or had severe symptoms but said that 100% of those admitted have been unvaccinated.
The Texas Department of State Health Services doesn’t track how many pregnant women contract the virus and how many have been vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows in early August, only around 23% of pregnant women across the nation received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
“The only thing that we know now that is effective and safe at preventing death, preventing hospitalization, preventing ICU care, preventing the need for mechanical ventilation is the COVID vaccine,” Ghartey said.
CDC: Vaccine safe for pregnant people
Earlier in the week, the CDC updated and strengthened its guidance.
The health agency is now recommending all pregnant women, those thinking about becoming pregnant and breastfeeding moms get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The CDC had previously encouraged pregnant women to consider the vaccination but said that evidence about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines has been growing.
New analysis of data from its v-safe pregnancy registry, used to track side effects and safety of nearly 140,000 pregnant women, has found no increased risk for miscarriage among 2,500 pregnant women who got either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The analysis found a miscarriage rate of around 13%, similar to the expected rate of miscarriage in the general population.
The CDC added that there were also no safety concerns among those who were vaccinated late in pregnancy, not even for their babies.
“We have changed with the data,” said Dr. John Thoppil, president of the Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “The previous ACOG guidance was that all pregnant women should be offered the vaccine. The new is recommending all pregnant women get the vaccine.”
Dr. Madeline Kaye, an OB-GYN at Renaissance Women’s Group, has been spending a lot of time counseling and recommending the vaccine to her patients.
“The last couple of weeks, I have seen a tremendous increase in the number of cases and hospitalizations, especially young, healthy pregnant women — all unvaccinated,” said Kaye, who herself was vaccinated during her second trimester of pregnancy and recently had her baby.
“I am seeing (and feeling) tremendous burnout among healthcare workers with this new surge in cases. It is entirely preventable. It is incredible that scientists were able to develop such an effective vaccine and so disheartening that so many people will not take it,” Kaye said. “It feels like this pandemic will never end because we will never reach herd immunity and will just keep getting new variants.”
Fighting delta variant unvaccinated
A spokesperson with Baylor Scott & White Health explained that they can’t give specific numbers either, but according to their maternal fetal medicine specialists, they’re also seeing a greater number of pregnant patients admitted in ICU and on ventilators than previously during the pandemic.
She added that the majority of those patients are fighting the delta variant, and all of those pregnant women in the hospital suffering from COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
A St. David’s spokesperson said the hospital can’t share this level of detail about COVID-19 cases.
For Ghartey, it’s about not just protecting the mothers but also the baby. She’s worried about complications to the baby, including preterm births, which her team has had to oversee over the last several weeks.
“The vaccine in terms of the way it was developed, the science on that, has been around for years, there were no shortcuts that were taken to achieve authorization from the FDA,” Ghartey explained. “We know that it’s safe. We know that it’s effective. Given how highly infectious the delta variant is, it may not prevent you from getting COVID, but it will prevent you from getting hospitalized and getting incredibly sick.”
She said the earlier pregnant women get the vaccine, the more immunity will be passed on to their babies. She also explained that expectant moms can get the vaccine days before birth and even after recovering from the virus.
‘It’s not easy’
Martinez said she did get the vaccine after she was released from Ascension Seton in July, almost 2 1/2 months after getting sick.
She’s 34 weeks pregnant now and uses a wheelchair and walker to get around the house. She said she contracted the virus from work, where she’s an administrative assistant.
“I’m on oxygen, and it’s just helping me breathe for me and the baby,” said Martinez. “And it just helps me to stay alive and stay healthy.”
Carolina Martinez is recovering at home after 2 and half months at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin. She said before getting COVID-19 she was very active and rarely got sick. (Courtesy of Carolina Martinez)
She’s due to give birth in about two weeks. She said so far, her baby has been doing great, but she worries about long-term impacts. “I’m scared for her,” she said.
She also said she doesn’t know how long she will need to be on the oxygen.
“Every day is a challenge. It’s not easy,” she said. “Now everything is a challenge — brushing my teeth, my hair, getting from the living room to the kitchen table. It’s been hard, but I’m alive. And I’m so grateful to be here. And so I’m happy. I’m extremely happy to just be here with my family and have the opportunity to see them.”
Nevertheless, Martinez said she’s also grateful to her doctors and nurses who gave her strength.
“You’re so brave and so resilient. And it’s part of why, you know, you’re doing so well and continue to recover,” Ghartey told Martinez. “Everyone keeps asking me about you and how you’re doing and how things are going, and they can’t wait for you to come in and deliver and see you again.”