Erika Becerra was eight months pregnant when she learned she had tested positive for the coronavirus. Almost immediately after getting the result, her body started to ache, she developed a fever, and she felt tightness in her chest. When she began to have difficulty breathing, her husband called an ambulance.
Three days later, on November 15, she gave birth in a Detroit hospital to a healthy boy, Diego. She was never able to hold him in her arms, her brother told KCBS-TV in Los Angeles.
Ms Becerra’s health declined so rapidly that doctors put her on a ventilator, that she remained for 18 days. Ms Becerra, 33, who had no known health problems before she fell ill, died Thursday, surrounded by her parents and brother, who had rushed from east Los Angeles, her godmother said, Claudia Garcia.
“It was a complete shock – she was fine,” Ms. Garcia said. “I’m speechless. I’m still trying to wake up from this nightmare.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added pregnancy to the list of conditions that place people with Covid-19 at an increased risk of developing serious illness, including an increased risk of death.
The agency added pregnancy to the list after a study that looked at the outcomes of 409,462 symptomatic women aged 15 to 44 who tested positive for the coronavirus, of which 23,434 were pregnant.
The study found that pregnant women had a 70% increased risk of death compared to non-pregnant women who exhibited symptoms.
Pregnant women were also much more likely to require intensive care, to be connected to a specialized heart-lung bypass machine, and to require mechanical ventilation than non-pregnant women.
“When you think of a growing uterus pressing down on the diaphragm and lifting it upward, it is usually more difficult to breathe when you are pregnant,” said Dr. Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, obstetrician at NewYork-Presbyterian / Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Adding respiratory disease only makes things more difficult.”
Dr Gyamfi-Bannerman said Ms Becerra’s death was a reminder of the importance for pregnant women to maintain social distancing, wear masks and minimize time spent outside their home.
But she said doctors still need more data to get a better idea of the risks to pregnant women who contract the virus. The absolute risk of death for pregnant women who contracted the coronavirus was always lower than for women who contracted the H1N1 virus during pregnancy, according to the CDC study.
A Nov. 19 study, published in the JAMA Network Open, also found that 95% of pregnant women who tested positive for the coronavirus had no adverse results.
“The vast majority of pregnant women with Covid do very well,” said Dr Gyamfi-Bannerman.
Ms Garcia said the family did not know how Ms Becerra contracted the virus. Relatives have speculated that she must have been infected in early November, during her numerous visits to the doctor at the end of the pregnancy, when she began to feel mild contractions. She learned that she was infected with the virus on November 7.
Ms Becerra’s husband Diego, a landscaper, took care of her toddler son and the couple’s daughter, one-year-old Erika. All three have tested negative for Covid-19, Ms Garcia said.
Ms Garcia said her goddaughter was ecstatic when she found out she was going to have a boy.
“She was so excited,” Ms. Garcia said. “She was like, ‘I’m going to have my boy and I’m going to have my daughter and they’re going to grow up together.'”
Roni Caryn Rabin contributed reporting.