My name is Danielle, or “D” as my family and friends call me. I have been a Registered Nurse since 2007. I love being a nurse and love to educate patients. I am a firm believer in “prevention is the best medicine.” In November of 2021, I was 20 weeks pregnant. We had been trying to conceive through in-vitro fertilization for a few years and this was our “rainbow baby” after a miscarriage on our previous attempt.
I had stopped working since COVID numbers were rising to protect myself and the baby from the risks of contracting COVID-19. Although a vaccine advocate, due to the newness and not knowing if there were risks to me and the baby, I had chosen not to receive the COVID vaccine despite being encouraged by my OB and maternal-fetal medicine doctors to do so. Little did I know, that this decision could have possibly not only affected my baby, but may almost have cost me my life.
I tested positive for COVID late in November with minor cold symptoms. I was also experiencing some early signs of trouble with my pregnancy. My blood pressure had started to rise and based on laboratory results, my platelets (which cause our blood to clot and prevent bleeding) began to decrease. These were early signs of HELLP (Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, Low Platelets) Syndrome, a severe form of preeclampsia/eclampsia.
The only way to prevent the mother from serious medical problems and death is to deliver the baby. Complicating my HELLP Syndrome was the fact that my daughter was only 22 weeks, and I was quickly developing more severe respiratory COVID symptoms.
On December 1st, Stella Gee was born. She was so tiny — no longer than an ink pen. She was only 9 oz., just over half a pound, and only nine inches long. She was also positive for COVID-19. Stella fought hard for two days but on her third day, we lost her. I was barely able to comprehend the loss of my baby, as my condition also worsened and due to complications, I was placed on a ventilator — at only 36 years old. My lungs had hardened and were not working well enough to keep me oxygenated.
I was placed on an ECMO machine which took the blood out of my body, added oxygen, removed the carbon dioxide (since my lungs couldn’t) and returned the blood back to my body. This is a last resort form of life support. We had just lost Stella and my family thought they were going to lose me too. After 27 days on ECMO, a tracheostomy, many blood transfusions, and so much more during my 77 days in the hospital, I survived! Some may call it medicine, a will to live, or luck — but I call it a miracle!
I am grateful for every day that I am given, and I look for opportunities to share my joy with others and I never could have imagined I would ever have to endure these events. However, I’m a stubborn person, not allowing myself to be held down, and I vowed to use these difficult experiences to be a better nurse, educator, and encourager.
I have a unique experience of being able to understand the hospital from both sides — nurse and patient — and hope that will help me help others to avoid some of the same troubles I have faced. I look forward to using my experiences to motivate, educate, and communicate with others in a positive way. I believe that keeping a positive attitude plays a direct role in our health and wellness. Choosing to be positive despite negative events is not always easy, but it is always worth it!
It has been about a year since my run-in with COVID-19 and the loss of our baby girl Stella Gee. I can’t help but sit and wonder what may have happened had I chosen to vaccinate as suggested to me so many times. I often think about the “what ifs” in the history of Stella and me. I felt the urge to share our story and to encourage those who are pregnant or planning pregnancy to get vaccinated.
If sharing our story can prevent someone from suffering our losses, it is worth the difficulty of putting these events into words. We plan to try getting pregnant again in the near future. I have done so much research in the last year and have spoken with many physicians regarding risks and rewards of receiving the vaccine related to pregnancy. We have decided that getting the vaccine is our best chance of avoiding the dangers of getting COVID-19 while pregnant again. I hope and pray that by sharing our story, we can help you make the same decision.
Danielle “D” Vitale, RN, BSN, is a registered nurse and a Nana to 3 beautiful grandchildren. She lives in Exeter, PA with her loving fiancé.