2020 brought trauma and joy for one family

By The Health News Team | March 16, 2021
Rosario was cared for in the NICU at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns after being born prematurely.

For Maria Tijerina, 38, her unforgettable experiences of 2020 began shortly after the start of the
COVID-19 pandemic. She and her husband, Jerry, discovered they would be expecting their third child - 19 years after their son, Armando, was born, and 15 years since the birth of their daughter, Rubi.

"After 15 years, we were really surprised to find out we were having another baby," Maria says. "Surprised, but very happy."

With the exception of a diagnosis of
gestational diabetes - which Maria managed well by adjusting her diet, exercising and monitoring her blood glucose levels - her pregnancy was generally an easy one. However, when her husband started feeling a little lightheaded and complained of a headache around her 37th week of pregnancy - precisely as the coronavirus was rapidly spreading in San Diego - things quickly took a turn.

A concerning change of events
Maria soon was not feeling well and also having some difficulty breathing. Fearing the worst - that they had COVID-19 - Maria went to the
Sharp Memorial Hospital ER, where she tested positive for the illness, as did every member of their household, including Jerry, Armando, Rubi, and Maria's parents. "I tested positive for COVID-19 and was sent home to recover, but quickly got worse," Maria says. "I went back to the ER and my blood pressure had shot up. Before I knew what was happening, I was being whisked away to Sharp Mary Birch for an emergency C-section delivery."

Maria was only able to see her baby for a brief moment before she was transferred back to Sharp Memorial to be treated for both pneumonia and COVID-19.

Maria was only able to see her baby for a brief moment before she was transferred back to Sharp Memorial to be treated for both pneumonia and COVID-19.

At just 37 weeks into a pregnancy she expected would last 40 weeks, and with mounting concerns about her baby and her own health, Maria was terrified. "Within one day, I went from being pregnant and feeling good to being diagnosed with COVID and having a C-section."

Feeling both gratitude and grief
The delivery of her new baby girl, Rosario, went well. However, due to her COVID-19 diagnosis, Maria was only able to see her baby for a brief moment before she was transferred back to Sharp Memorial to be treated for both pneumonia and COVID-19. Little Rosario, who did not have COVID-19 but was premature and required supplemental oxygen, was cared for in the
NICU at
Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.

What's more, because Jerry also had COVID-19, he was unable to be there for Rosario's birth. And Maria's father had to be hospitalized for complications due to COVID-19. It would be 10 days before Maria, Jerry or any member of their household would be well enough to hold little Rosario in their arms.

"The nurses in the NICU were so great," Maria says. "They had a camera on Rosario all the time and I could use my phone to see her from my hospital bed. They also called me with regular updates. And my own nurses were on top of everything, always checking on me and keeping me updated on my father's condition. They were so caring."

And yet, Maria still felt the weight of the situation - a mix of being grateful, traumatized and concerned. "Everything went from perfectly fine to chaos so quickly," she says.

She was worried about her father and her new baby girl, and was disappointed that she was unable to be with her and breastfeed her. She had moments where she worried about her own health and whether she might not make it, wondering how her husband and now three children would do without her.

Because Jerry had COVID-19, it was 10 days before he was able to hold Rosario in his arms following her birth.

Because Jerry had COVID-19, it was 10 days before he was able to hold Rosario in his arms following her birth.

However, Maria recognized that she was among the lucky to catch COVID-19 and still be alive, and have several family members also survive the illness, especially her father, who recovered and returned home. She was also incredibly grateful for her sister, Gracie Omler, who lived nearby and was able to pick up Rosario when she was discharged from the NICU, and care for her until Maria and Jerry felt well enough to bring her home.

Brighter days ahead
"It felt so great to be able to finally hold her and feel her in my arms," Maria says about the day they were able to pick Rosario up at Gracie's house. "I felt grateful for everything - the sun seemed brighter and trees seemed greener. It's the little things you take for granted that you see differently when you go through something so scary."

Now, fully recovered from COVID-19 and settled back at home with her family, Maria says she is taking it one day at a time. She is looking forward to when she can see people's smiling, mask-free faces once again and not have to be so worried about COVID-19.

"People don't understand how challenging COVID-19 is for some people." Maria says. "It's hard to see them not take it seriously after all we've been through. But I am just so grateful that I am here with my family. And I thank the staff at Sharp for all the wonderful things they did to make it possible."


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