Pregnant Mother Nearly Dies from Flu, Recovers on ECMO

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Legal secretary Kim Reyes never anticipated the trials ahead of her. She suffered with a nasty cough and fatigue for a full week before making a doctor’s appointment.

When Reyes arrived with difficulty breathing, the clinic immediately called an ambulance to transport her to the hospital. Once there, Reyes learned she had H1N1 and pneumonia. The H1N1 virus is the same strain that ignited the swine flu pandemic in 2009.

The bigger surprise was learning that she was pregnant and in her second trimester.

Within 24 hours, she was getting worse. Doctors told her she was dying and there were two lives at risk. It was decided neither she nor the baby would survive without Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, or ECMO, a device that could breathe for her in place of her sick lungs.

Dr. Jordan Weingarten, medical director of the ECMO program at Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin, got the call and sent an ambulance and two perfusionists to transfer her.

At the hospital, a team of trained physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and perfusionists managed Reyes’ care and operated the ECMO device for more than two weeks. The device is similar to a heart-lung bypass machine used in open heart surgery.

Reyes doesn’t remember anything from the transfer or the many days on ECMO. She was heavily sedated to keep her body still and on a ventilator to help her breathe. This allowed her lungs to rest and heal.

On Jan. 15, 2014, Reyes woke up from heavy sedation. She went home in mid-February and returned to work just a couple weeks later.

At a little more than 35 weeks gestation, Reyes went into labor at a restaurant near her office. She was rushed by ambulance back to Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin where she delivered a healthy baby girl on March 10.

H1N1 is often more dangerous to young adults than the seasonal flu. And pregnant women are at a higher risk of complications. Reyes, who didn’t know she was pregnant, had not had a flu shot.

Today, she is healthy and back to work as a legal secretary. Reyes lives in Southwest Austin with her daughter, Jennifer Margaret Reyes. She vows to get her flu shot each year and encourages everyone, especially pregnant mothers, to do the same.