OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) — East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC) has helped more than two thousand sick patients return to their loved ones since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Friday, a team of EAMC health care heroes met with one such patient, 36-year-old Amanda Harrison, for an emotional reunion providing healing and hope for all involved.
“I don’t remember much, but I remember seeing all of your eyes and thinking they were the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen. I was so scared,” shared Harrison with her team of caregivers.
In August, Amanda became severely ill with COVID-19. She was 32 weeks along with her unborn baby girl. COVID was ravaging her body, turning her into the sickest pregnant woman EAMC’s Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, an Infection Disease Specialist, had ever seen.
“I came to see you, and you were so scared. Struggling and so uncomfortable. You were struggling to breathe, and I told you we would get you better,” Dr. Malgonado told Harrison during Friday’s reunion.
A team of more than 20 healthcare heroes worked to keep Amanda and her baby alive, then stable enough to fly to UAB. Laurie Grant, Amanda’s mother, remembers watching how EAMC caregivers did all they could to save her daughter and granddaughter.
“They wanted to fly her to Birmingham, UAB hospital, but there were no beds available,” said Grant.
Grant says a few hours later, when a bed became available at UAB, Amanda was struggling to breathe on top of persistent vomiting and couldn’t wear the helicopter’s oxygen mask.
“What was so impressive with EAMC is they tried everything they could do get her on that life flight. I watched them as they all met in the hallway; it must have been 20 to 25 of them trying to figure out what to do next,” said Grant. “They went ahead and took her back and intubated her, but they did not take the baby; they had her intubated and got her on that helicopter and flew her to UAB while she was pregnant. The drive there was the scariest drive of my life.”
Baby Lake was delivered at 32 weeks. She weighed three pounds but had no major health issues and quickly gained weight. Lake is completely healthy. Amanda remained highly sick and spent several weeks on a ventilator and ECMO. The c-section allowed doctors to treat the virus aggressively.
“I wanted them to know from the time I woke up how grateful I was for not just what they did for me, but for my mom and I have four other children. Everything they did directly impacted my kids. My kids still have a mom. They came close to not having a mom,” said Harrison.
Amanda and her heroes exchanged gifts, tears, and hugs during Friday’s meeting. A special part of the day came when a charm bracelet Amanda wore to EAMC and thought she had lost was returned to her by one of her nurses who kept it safe when they had to remove it. The team held on to the bracelet, many praying daily for her recovery. The gathering offered a chance to heal and find hope.
“I have lost over 300 patients in the last 20 months. That’s an incredible number and a pain I am not used to,” said Dr. Maldonado. “So with cases like this, those miracle cases, where we put so much effort, and they come back to visit us, it means the world to us. It gives us that energy to keep doing what we are doing.”
Many nurses struggled to hold back tears as they kept hugging Amanda, her mother, and baby Lake. The team says it’s infrequent for them to reunite with the patients they have saved.
“It gives us a renewed faith in what we do for a living. There are good outcomes out of the bad outcomes. This will allow us to come back and save another life the next day,” said Michale Payne, with EAMC Respiratory.
Friday’s gathering was good for their souls, which are too often crushed due to the ravages of COVID-19.
“I have thought about and prayed for her, her mom, and baby Lake almost every day. It’s amazing to get to see somebody who was so sick last time, to see them do so well. It’s not something we get to see ever, really,” said nurse Bekah King. “I have to tell you, I left the ICU and transferred to another department recently. The past year has been so hard on me, my family, and my friends, who are my co-workers. I feel guilty not being in there right now, and my friends are still going through it. People who don’t work inside healthcare have no idea; you can’t wrap your head around it until you are knee-deep in it.”
Amanda, too, is struggling with survivor’s guilt. New mothers who were hospitalized alongside Harrison at UAB never got to go home with their babies. As a result, Amanda and her mother have become vocal vaccine and healthcare advocates.
In August, when Amanda was still at UAB in ICU, her mother interviewed with WRBL urging families to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Her compassionate plea came after watching her pregnant daughter struggle to live for herself and her unborn child. Unfortunately, Amanda had not been vaccinated and got sick with the virus around the same time the CDC issued an advisory strongly urging pregnant women to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“So many people did not wake up, younger than I am. They did not get to see their babies. I wish everyone would get the vaccine, and I know it would save their life. It will save their life,” said Harrison.
Amanda and Lake are alive because of east Alabama Health. Harrison is more than a hospital COVID-19 survivor story; she is now a part of the East Alabama Health Family.
The hospital, along with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology, strongly encourages all pregnant women to get vaccinated as soon as possible regardless of trimester.