In a hospital at the center of the crisis, nearly 200 babies have arrived since March. Some pregnant women have fallen extremely ill, but doctors are winning battles for their lives and their children’s.
The worried doctors stood together after their rounds, weighing the risks. A 31-year-old pregnant woman was in peril, her lungs ravaged by the coronavirus. If they delivered her baby now, it might reduce the strain on her body and help her recover.
But it was more than two months before the due date, and the infant would probably have difficulty breathing, feeding and maintaining temperature and be at risk for long-term health problems. The surgery itself, a cesarean section, would be a stressor for the mother.
In the end,the three obstetricians agreed: Neither the mother, on a ventilator, nor the child in her womb was getting enough oxygen, and the best chance to save both was to bring the baby into the world. Today.
“We needed to do something,” said Dr. Erroll Byer Jr., chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, reflecting on that morning nearly two weeks ago.
The woman, Precious Anderson, was one of three critically ill expectant mothers at the same time in the community hospital, an unusual circumstance. Dr. Byer walked back and forth between the maternity floor and the intensive care unit, checking on her.
The obstetrics unit, which delivers about 2,600 babies a year, is typically a place of celebration and fulfilled hopes. But amid the pandemic, it has been transformed.
Nearly 200 babies have arrived since the beginning of March, according to Dr. Byer. Twenty-nine pregnant or delivering women have had suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. They have been kept separate from other patients, and medical workers wear protective clothing when attending to them. Hallways, where women walked as they endured labor, are empty, with the mothers-to-be confined to their rooms. Multiple doctors and nurses in the department have fallen ill.
Even healthy pregnant women are anxious. “They don’t feel the happiness and joy that many people experience” at this time of life, Dr. Byer said. Worse, some pregnant patients who become sick are so scared of coming into the hospital — citing fear of the virus or of being alone — that they have delayed doing so. A few of them have become dangerously ill.
As at other New York hospitals, the surge of new patients with Covid-19 flattened this past week. But the intensive care unit at the Brooklyn hospital had to keep expanding, to nearly three times its original size, and deaths remained high. Nearly 90 patients confirmed or suspected to have the virus had succumbed since March 1. From Monday to Friday last week alone, 30 died. Five staff members have also died. The crisis is not over, Dr. Byer and other physicians warned.
But he is grateful: So far, not one mother or baby has been lost. There have been no confirmed cases among newborns, though doctors are awaiting results for one, according to the chair of pediatrics, Dr. Noah Kondamudi.
Ms. Anderson’s case has been particularly harrowing. She had been a patient of Dr. Byer’s for years. He counseled her on getting pregnant after a miscarriage and delivered her sister’s children. Day after day, as she struggled for survival, he kept asking himself: Is she going to lose the baby she tried so hard to have? Will her child be left motherless?
During her ordeal, her mother, Doris Robinson, came to Dr. Byer’s office. “Do you think she’s going to make it?” she asked. “Please be real with me.”