It was a meeting one whole week in the making for Hamilton nurse Natalia Worek who had contracted COVID-19 while pregnant.
St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton captured the moment Worek was finally able to hold her newborn son, Praise, born at around 4 and a half pounds and several weeks premature.
“You can’t even describe the feeling … it was amazing,” she said.
The mother and baby were kept apart while Worek recovered after falling severely ill with COVID-19 in her third trimester.
“I am a registered nurse, so I was working as a bedside nurse prior to getting this new role as a clinical informatics specialist … I thought I was in the clear. I thought it’s not going to happen to me,” she said.
Worek was able to work from home, but a family member tested positive for COVID-19 and it is believed that is how she contracted the virus. A total of five out of the eight household members fell ill too.
“It was so hard because I was in my third trimester so it was very difficult to differentiate what was pregnancy and what was something else,” she recalled.
Worek’s mother-in-law and father-in-law, the eldest in the multi-generational home, were the only ones who did not get COVID-19.
“I do think that there is still this assumption, just even with friends and family of mine, that COVID only affects older people, people with preexisting conditions … I have no preexisting conditions and I’m thirty one years old,” she said. “Yes, I was pregnant, so that made me immunocompromised but my fiancé tested positive as well.”
Worek’s sister-in-law, who is in her 50s, remains in hospital in intensive care after a month.
“So we’re not out of the woods yet,” she continuted. “One of us is still fighting, but at least with my story and with the baby, we were able to progress so quickly, which was such a blessing.”
Worek’s symptoms progressed quickly from a dry cough to a fever and extreme fatigue.
When her breathing became laboured, she went to hospital.
“When they told me we were going in for an emergency C-section, I was like, ‘oh, lovely, my fiancé is not here, it’s our first baby, totally not the birthing experience that I expected!’ But now I’m doing worse and I can barely breathe. So that’s scary … then they told me that when my bloodwork came back, my platelets, which are the cells in your body that are responsible for clotting, were dangerously low,” she recalled.
Alone, Worek was afraid, but she said the medical team was “amazing” and helped to console her.
“Her story is actually very representative of what we’re seeing in the third wave. An otherwise very health woman developing COVID, becoming severely ill, requiring ICU stay and requiring delivery in the preterm period between 34 and 36 weeks,” explained Dr. Susan Ellis, Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.
Praise was born with respiratory issues but he did not test positive for COVID-19 and the doctors and nurses took good care of him.
“Each day I visited with Natalia on her unit, offered support to her,” explained Social Worker Sarah Simpson, adding “On the day she was being discharged it all unfolded really quickly … it was decided she could come out of isolation and so really quickly I contacted out audio-visual department.”
The team wanted Worek to have a special keepsake video to show Praise one day.
A camera followed her as she was taken by wheelchair to meet her son from her room.
The halls were lined with healthcare workers cheering her on.
After waiting for 34 weeks and another excruciating seven days post-delivery, the wrapped up newborn baby was placed in Worek’s arms.
“I’m just blessed that I’m OK and I’m home and he’s thriving and doing really, really well, so that’s definitely a blessing,” said Worek.