It was a perfect storm, and maybe the worst of it was that what happened to Heidi Greenwood centered on what should have been a beautiful event, a blessing, one she knew well, one she had facilitated for others almost daily.
“It’s a lot,” said Anna Wallin, Greenwood’s friend and fellow labor and delivery nurse at Presbyterian Hospital. “But that’s COVID-19.”
And that’s just the beginning.
Because of Greenwood’s precarious health and situation, Wallin is charged with telling us her friend’s story. The two met 16 years ago, both beginning their careers as labor and delivery nurses at Presbyterian on the same day. Greenwood, she said, was feisty, persistent, compassionate and devoted to her patients.
“She’s one of those who would fight to the death for you if she needs to,” Wallin said. “She will not back down.”
Wallin helped deliver Greenwood’s first two children, and Greenwood helped deliver hers. Wallin said she had planned to deliver Greenwood’s next baby, due later this month.
But it didn’t work out that way.
For one thing – or two – it wasn’t just a baby on the way, but twins, a big surprise, Wallin said.
For another, the pandemic was raging.
Being pregnant with twins put Greenwood, who is in her late 30s, at higher risk should she contract COVID-19, so she took special precautions to protect herself.
“I did, too,” Wallin said. “But sometimes, no matter what you do, things happen.”
In early December, Greenwood started experiencing symptoms possibly related to COVID-19. Out of an abundance of caution, she went to the hospital Dec. 9 to be tested and was admitted. Eventually, the test results came back positive for coronavirus, but by then that was already obvious.
“She probably knew she had it,” Wallin said. “We’ve seen patients get very sick very fast.”
Whether the virus exacerbated pregnancy complications or the pregnancy exacerbated COVID-19 complications is unclear, but what was clear was that Greenwood had become very sick very fast and her babies needed to come into this world right away.
On Dec. 12, Greenwood, just 33½ weeks into her pregnancy, underwent a Caesarean section and welcomed her son and daughter, if but from afar.
“Because of COVID-19, she wasn’t allowed to hold her babies or be near them,” Wallin said. “She had to see them on an iPad. She had to FaceTime with her babies.”
The tiny newborns, born 6½ weeks premature, were cared for in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, forcing Greenwood’s husband, Matt, to make the heartbreaking decision on whether to visit the babies or visit his sick wife.
“They wouldn’t let him do both,” Wallin said. “I’m not sure which one he chose.”
Eventually, Greenwood was allowed to visit her babies in the NICU before she was discharged Dec. 16 to heal from the C-section and the residual effects of COVID-19.
But the virus was not done with her yet. A week later, Greenwood was hospitalized again, in pain and her oxygen-saturation level dropping.
The once-healthy young woman, who had no comorbidities before pregnancy, was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism, caused by a blood clot blocking an artery in her lung, and cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the body.
Greenwood, weak and in pain but stabilized, was released from the hospital a day later, but one week later she was readmitted with congestive heart failure and fluid in her lungs.
“She would feel a lot better and then she’d feel a lot worse,” Wallin said. “It was up and down, and now it was way down.”
From Dec. 30 to Jan. 2, Greenwood remained in the critical care unit. During that time, her newborn daughter was strong enough to be released from the hospital, a tiny cannula inserted in her nose to supply oxygen.
On Jan. 4, Greenwood was allowed to go home. Just this Thursday, her infant son came home, too, also still on oxygen.
Through it all, Wallin said Greenwood pumped breast milk for her babies and worried about everybody else, including Wallin, who also became sick with COVID-19.
“Here she is in critical care and texting me, asking how I’m feeling,” said Wallin, whose bout with the virus was not as severe but has left her with a persistent cough. “It’s so hard for nurses to sit back and be the patient. We are caregivers, not used to getting that care.”
Greenwood is home with her babies now, too weak to care for them alone, helped by a network of family and friends who do their best to follow COVID-19 safety measures and navigate the perfect storm that struck so surprisingly.
It’s unclear how permanently compromised Greenwood’s health is, but a growing number of studies indicate that some survivors of COVID-19 continue to struggle with debilitating medical conditions, even when their bout with the virus was mild. Such patients are called long-haulers.
Wallin has set up a GoFundMe to help the Greenwood family through the storm. But typical of a caregiver, Greenwood wants the focus not to be on her but on all of us.
“She wants people to be more careful, to understand that COVID-19 is real and that it is up to all of us to keep wearing our masks, stay home, social-distance, wash hands, be safe,” Wallin said. “She did everything she could to safeguard herself and her babies, but if others aren’t doing the same, the illness can still spread.”
She wants us to understand that COVID-19 can strike anybody, no matter how healthy nor how young, and that even after the darkest storm clouds of COVID-19 clear what remains can change everything.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.