Erika Becerra was eight months pregnant when she learned she had tested positive for the coronavirus. Almost immediately after she got the result, her body began aching, she developed a fever and she felt tightness in her chest. When she began having trouble breathing, her husband called for an ambulance.
Three days later, on Nov. 15, she gave birth in a Detroit hospital to a healthy boy, Diego. She never got to hold him, her brother told KCBS-TV in Los Angeles.
Becerra’s health declined so rapidly that doctors put her on a ventilator, where she remained for 18 days. Becerra, 33, who had no known health problems before she became ill, died Thursday, surrounded by her parents and brother, who had rushed from East Los Angeles, according to her godmother, Claudia Garcia.
“It was a complete shock — she was fine,” Garcia said. “I’m speechless. I’m still trying to wake up from this nightmare.”
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added pregnancy to the list of conditions that put people with COVID-19 at increased risk of developing severe illness, including a heightened risk of death.
The agency added pregnancy to the list after a study that examined the health outcomes of 409,462 symptomatic women ages 15 to 44 who tested positive for the coronavirus, 23,434 of whom were pregnant.
The study found that pregnant women faced a 70 percent increased risk of death compared with nonpregnant women who were symptomatic.
The pregnant women also were significantly more likely to require intensive care, to be connected to a specialized heart-lung bypass machine and to require mechanical ventilation than nonpregnant women.
“When you think about a growing uterus pressing on the diaphragm and lifting it upward, in general, it’s harder to breathe when you’re pregnant,” said Dr. Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, an obstetrician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Adding a respiratory disease just makes it more challenging.”
Gyamfi-Bannerman said Becerra’s death was a reminder of the importance for pregnant women to maintain social distance, wear masks and minimize time outside their homes.
But she said doctors still needed more data to get a better sense of the risks for pregnant women who contract the virus. The absolute risk of death for pregnant women who contracted the coronavirus was still lower than for women who contracted the H1N1 virus during pregnancy, according to the CDC study.
A Nov. 19 study, which was published in JAMA Network Open, also found that 95 percent of pregnant women who tested positive for the coronavirus had no adverse outcomes.
“The vast majority of pregnant women with COVID do very well,” Gyamfi-Bannerman said.
Garcia said the family did not know how Becerra contracted the virus. Relatives speculated that she must have become infected in early November, during her many visits to the doctor late in the pregnancy, when she began experiencing mild contractions. She learned she was infected with the virus Nov. 7.
Becerra’s husband, Diego, a landscaper, has been taking care of his infant son and the couple’s 1-year-old daughter, Erika. All three have tested negative for COVID-19, Garcia said.
Garcia said her goddaughter was ecstatic when she learned she was having a boy.
“She was so excited,” Garcia said. “She would say, ‘I’m going to have my boy and I’m going to have my girl and they’re going to grow up together.’ ”
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