Covid: 'I couldn't see my baby for eight weeks'

By Tarah Welsh
BBC London

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image copyrightMANDY NGUYEN
image captionBefore going into hospital, Mandy Nguyen was a healthy 31-year-old with no underlying health conditions

Mandy Nguyen couldn't see her son for the first eight weeks of his life. She was fighting for her life after falling ill with Covid-19 at 32 weeks pregnant.

On her 32nd birthday, Ms Nguyen's doctors and nurses gathered around her intensive care unit bed to sing her happy birthday.

But she couldn't hear them. Her condition had deteriorated to the point she was on life support.

Doctors had told her family to prepare for the worst, because coronavirus had ravaged her lungs to the point she could no longer properly oxygenate her blood.

Three weeks earlier, on 6 April 2020, Ms Nguyen had given birth to her son Wyatt by emergency Caesarean section at the Royal London Hospital.

image copyrightMandy Nguyen
image captionWyatt was born two months prematurely and needed specialist care for the first weeks of his life

"The doctors told me they couldn't give me the correct medications with a baby in me," Ms Nguyen said.

He was two months premature but was healthy. However, Ms Nguyen took a turn for the worse.

She was taken to St Bartholomew's Hospital in central London, where she was attached to a rare form of life support - an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (Ecmo) Machine.

The machine temporarily replaces the function of the heart and lungs. It is only used on patients unable to breathe for themselves, even with the help of a ventilator.

After three weeks on the Ecmo machine she woke up.

"That was scary because I woke up with so many new scars and tubes in you. I didn't know where I was.

"I woke up with a tracheotomy done, so I couldn't even speak.

"But I felt lucky to be on this machine.

"I'm ever so grateful, as without this machine I don't think I would be with my children now."

media captionHospital staff sing happy birthday to Mandy Nguyen

"The first thing I wanted to do was see my baby," Ms Nguyen added.

But Wyatt was still too vulnerable to be brought on to the intensive care ward.

Ms Nguyen said she cried when she found out he was "in his own Covid-free ward, where he'd been all alone for two weeks".

She had to learn how to walk and talk again.

"It was strange. I was so ill to the point I didn't feel like an adult any more," she said.

"I felt like a baby. I couldn't go to the toilet on my own, or do my hair on my own."

She wasn't allowed home to see her two-year-old daughter and her new son until she could "walk up stairs and have a shower by myself.

"I was like, I'm getting up right now and I wasn't going to let anyone stop me," she said.

image copyrightMandy Nguyen
image captionMandy Nguyen said she woke up to find out she'd had a tracheotomy

Being away from her son took its toll on Ms Nguyen's mental health.

"I could feel if I didn't go home I would have post-natal depression," she said.

"Towards the end I know I was struggling. I wasn't even asking to see him or hear him.

"I just knew that he was safe and doing well.

"I honestly just didn't even think about my baby. I knew in a way there was nothing I could do."

image copyrightMandy Nguyen
image captionShe said it was bittersweet to return home and see her partner and two children

After eight weeks without seeing her children, she could finally go home and meet her baby.

"It was bittersweet," she said.

"I got to go home to see my son, but I didn't know my son.

"You think eight weeks of him growing up, having his first bath."

Before falling ill she was a perfectly health 31-year-old with no underlying health conditions.

"You never know how close it will hit home, until someone you know has it and has it badly."

The experience has left her "extremely grateful for the NHS".

"I just want to say thank you. People don't see this side of the NHS - the little things they do for you"

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