ORLANDO, Fla. – There are few things a mother remembers better than the birth of her child, but COVID-19 almost stole that precious moment from a Central Florida woman.
“I remember being weak, and I remember just thinking like I couldn’t hold her,” Paola Gambini, 32, said.
Gambini delivered her daughter Lilliana in the middle of her own fight for her life with COVID-19.
On July 29, her fiancé Michael Hazen called 911 because Gambini was struggling to breathe.
”I was one of those people that’s like I’m not going to get vaccinated, I’m just going to be safe or whatever, I never imagined I would get COVID, and then for it to happen at the very end of my pregnancy,” Gambini said.
She ended up needing to deliver her baby via c-section several weeks ahead of schedule.
Gambini said she had fought so hard to have her baby after losing her first child at 26 weeks due to a weak cervix.
”I wanted a baby so bad. Like my friends and family know, I went through everything to have a child. That was like my dream,” Gambini said.
After the c-section, Gambini was rushed into the intensive care unit at ORMC under the care of Dr. Charles Hunley.
He said she was a candidate for the ECMO machine.
”She had a complicated course — I mean any time somebody goes on ECMO it’s not a therapy that hey it’s going to fix everything,” Hunley said.
The ECMO machine works by pulling blood out of a patient, oxygenating it, and putting it back in the patient, allowing their lungs to rest.
Hunley said it has been a game-changer for some COVID patients during the pandemic.
“We’ve had a 90% at this point success rate, on ECMO, which is not the norm,” Hunley said.
It was a blur for Gambini, who was hooked up to the ECMO machine for a total of 42 days.
”When I was in the ECMO unit I was one of five postpartum women that were there,” Gambini said.
Her fiancé was allowed to bring her daughter back into the hospital during her stay on her birthday, and after 85 days of care, she was reunited with her baby at home.
”She literally was an inspiration to all of us because in the darkest hour you saw something that was precious and incredible,” Hunley said.