Thursday, December 30, 2021


Pregnant woman lives through COVID to deliver healthy son

Jared Heard and Nakia Hubbard Heard celebrate the birth
of son, Saint, threatened by COVID-19 during her pregnancy.
Nakia Hubbard Heard of Inkster lost a week of her life and nearly the life of her unborn son to COVID-19 this year.

Heard, 46, was 23 weeks pregnant when she tested positive at Beaumont Hospital, Wayne, with COVID-19 this past March and was immediately placed on a ventilator to facilitate her breathing. While Heard said she has no memory of the situation, the threat to her life and her baby's life, required an airlift transfer to Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak two days later.

Heard's doctors approached her husband, Janard, with a terrifying question: What should they do if it came down to saving his wife or their baby.

Nakia Hubbard Heard spent a week on a ventilator
during her nearly fatal battle with COVID-19 while pregnant. 
Heard said the scariest moment came when she woke up alone and restrained in a hospital bed, lights flashing, alarms sounding, and no idea how she got there. 

“I lost a week of my life,” she said. “To this day, I have no memory of it.”

According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 31 percent of pregnant women are vaccinated against COVID-19. Currently, approximately 20 pregnant women are hospitalized at Beaumont Health with COVID-19

Back in March, Heard was newly eligible for the vaccine, but little data was available about  safety in pregnant women. Michigan was in the midst of its third surge. Heard, an occupational therapist, believes she contracted the virus from her family. She was unvaccinated. 

“When the vaccine first came out, there was no theoretical risk to pregnant women in any trimester,” said Heard's doctor, Karoline Puder, M.D., a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Beaumont, Royal Oak. “But it's not surprising pregnant women were afraid to try something new.”

Now, the scientific community has a full nine months plus of data and research to look to for validation. 

“We have strong evidence that there is no tendency for this vaccine to cause reproductive harm,” Dr. Puder said. Similarly, there is no evidence of fertility challenges, miscarriage, birth defects or growth abnormalities, she said. There is, however, strong evidence of increased risk to mother and baby from COVID-19, Puder said. 

“It is critically important that every woman who is pregnant, breast feeding or considering pregnancy gets vaccinated,” said Kurt Wharton, M.D., chief of Women's and Children's Clinical Care Programs for Beaumont Health.  “Compared to non-pregnant women, pregnant women who contract COVID-19 are at high risk of requiring hospitalization, requiring admission to the ICU and requiring intubation.” 

Additional complications related to pregnancy include pre-eclampsia and premature birth, Puder added. 

Heard was successfully removed from the ventilator in just five days although her airway was so damaged by the virus, “it felt like I was breathing through a straw,” she said.

Doctors performed a tracheotomy to improve air Heard's air flow and during the next 12 weeks, she endured three surgeries to repair the damage. As she slowly regained her strength and staff taught her how to walk again, Heard said she tried to prepare herself mentally and physical for the upcoming delivery.

“I was afraid I wouldn't be able to push. I was also afraid I would go into respiratory failure,” Heard said. “The trach was in place, but I thought I might have to go back on the vent,  or die trying to deliver the baby.” 

When her son, Saint Dalton Rocco Heard, was born healthy three weeks early via urgent cesarian section on July 8, the entire family rejoiced.

“Relief, gratitude, joy; those words aren't big enough to describe how I felt that day and today,” Heard said. “I still struggle with shortness of breath. I can't bathe my son in the tub because I can't get up from the floor without help. I can't carry him in his carrier longer than a couple minutes. I'm unable to walk long distances. I struggle with memory issues and body aches. My voice is weak and I can't carry on full conversations without getting winded. Even just reading a story to Saint tires my voice out, but I'm alive.”  

Instead of focusing on the challenges this holiday, Heard and her family are focusing on their blessings - and, of course, the miracles.

“I'm so grateful for the entire team at Beaumont, Wayne and Royal Oak,” Heard said. “Especially the antepartum team, Dr. Puder and her staff, who were so meticulous and thoughtful with their care. They fought hard for Saint and for me. I want to thank Annie, an ICU nurse who took great care of me, even when I wasn't in the mood.” 

“I'd like to say thank you to the RN on antepartum who took me outside for the first time in more than a month, to let me feel the sunshine again. To Nicole, who helped me learn to swallow and eat again. To Tony, who taught me how to walk again. To the nurse who held my hand up until the very moment they started my first surgery, because I was so scared. To the doctor who brought my husband a birthday card and a small gift, because I was upset I wasn't home for his birthday. And honestly, there are so many others to thank. 

“I'm alive. Saint is alive. We are safe and living our best possible life. And, that is everything.”