Expectant mother, on life support at UCLA Medical Center, survives COVID with her pregnancy intact

Denise Dador Image
Sunday, September 19, 2021
Expectant mom on life support becomes one of the few to survive COVID
A pregnant Seal Beach woman survives a harrowing COVID infection, as UCLA doctors take extraordinary measures to save her life and the life of her unborn baby.

SEAL BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- A pregnant Seal Beach woman survived a harrowing COVID infection after UCLA doctors took extraordinary measures to save her life and the life of her unborn baby.

In an interview with ABC7, Katie Pederson explained why she waited to get vaccinated and what she wants other expectant moms to know.

When Pederson found out she was having a baby, very few pregnant women were getting COVID-19 vaccines.

"I was going to wait until my third trimester until it was more readily available and there was more information. I felt safe in my decision -- until I wasn't," said Pederson.

Twenty-four weeks into her pregnancy, she tested positive for COVID. Her symptoms were getting progressively worse when she went to seek care at an Orange County emergency room.

"They admitted me, and that's the last time I saw my husband for about three and half weeks. I was intubated and put under. That's when I thought I was going to die," Pederson said.

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"Once the breathing tube went in, it became pretty clear that her lungs weren't going to sustain her," said Dr. Peyman Benharash with UCLA Health.

He and his mobile ECMO team transported Pederson to Westwood. To provide oxygen for her and her baby, the team inserted cannulas into her arteries.

"That removes blood from the patient and, in this particular case, adds blood and removes carbon dioxide and then returns the blood to the patient," Benharash said.

Doctors said she's one of many pregnant COVID patients to need life support. During pregnancy, a woman's immune system is suppressed so as to not attack her fetus. This makes a pregnant individual highly susceptible to severe illness.

"For the majority of patients, they end up having to be delivered while still on the ECMO machine," said Dr. Christina Han, an OB-GYN specialist.

She said Pederson was one of the rare circumstances where doctors were able to take her off the heart-lung machine.

"I remember every nurse and doctor say 'You're awake? How? And you're still pregnant?'" Pederson said.

She's now 35 weeks pregnant with a baby boy. But Pederson is still recovering from the mental and physical fallout of being in the ICU. She doesn't want any other pregnant woman to wait like she did to get vaccinated.

"What's right for me is protecting my body and getting vaccinated," Pederson said.

"We now know that these vaccines are not raising any red flags at all. There is no risk of stillbirths, of miscarriages or of preterm delivery," said Han.

When Pederson's son is old enough, she said, she wants to tell him: "We fought this. You are super strong. And we did it."