CANTON – Sierra Stoffer was already five months into her pregnancy when she found herself in the Aultman Hospital emergency room with a serious case of COVID-19.
Her oxygen levels had dropped and her blood pressure was all over the place. She was immediately triaged into the hospital, where doctors were concerned about the potential for heart failure.
“You try to protect your baby before they even get out here and now you’re fighting something you can’t see,” Sierra said.
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She was treated with a monoclonal antibody infusion and eventually recovered, though not without some remaining challenges. Since the infection, Sierra has needed to keep two inhalers on hand to manage her asthma, and throughout the rest of her pregnancy was continuously monitoring the growth of her baby, which could have been impacted by COVID-19.
“I still had quite a few symptoms of extreme fatigue and things like that,” Sierra said. “But I was nervous that if I was feeling that way, that [the baby] was feeling the same way.”
On May 1, Sierra, 27, and her husband Adam, 41, both lifelong Canton residents, welcomed their first child together, baby Micahangelo Princeton Stoffer, at Aultman Hospital.
“Our new born was a January 2022 COVID-19 virus baby! He was born [May 1] perfectly handsome, very healthy, strong, passed the hearing test and all! We are at loss of words,” Adam, who is deaf, wrote in an email.
‘Pregnancy is a risk factor.’
The Stoffer family’s brush with COVID-19 and pregnancy was not uncommon. More than 205,674 pregnant women have reportedly had COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC data also shows 32,481 COVID-19 hospitalizations among pregnant women, as well as 292 deaths.
“Moms-to-be and recently delivered moms who are infected with COVID-19, as compared to non-pregnant individuals of similar age and health, are much more likely to develop severe COVID-19 disease,” said Dr. Michael Krew, medical director of the Aultman Birth Center. “They are much more likely to need hospitalization, require ICU care and need a ventilator. The risk of death is also higher.”
According to a recent Canadian study of pregnancy outcomes with COVID-19 infections, there is also an elevated risk of preterm births when the pregnant parent has had a moderate to severe COVID-19 infection.
With the risks in mind, health officials recommend pregnant people get vaccinated and boosted on schedule. Sierra is vaccinated and boosted, and her antibodies should pass to Micahangelo and protect him, as well.
CDC data shows that some 70% percent of pregnant people are vaccinated against COVID-19.
“The virus has not gone away, and it continues to mutate. The number of people needing hospitalization and having severe complications of the disease has fortunately greatly decreased,” Krew said. “But it is still possible to develop severe disease with COVID-19 infection, especially if one is unvaccinated and has additional risk factors. Pregnancy is a risk factor.”
Family focus is on staying healthy
The experience was scary, Sierra said, particularly on top of balancing other stressors the family has been dealing with throughout the pandemic. Both Adam and Sierra, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, work part time at a retail store and both receive Social Security benefits for their disabilities.
Throughout much of the pandemic and now, they have to balance the amount they can earn to support their family — which includes four older children — without going over the Social Security income cap that would take away their benefits.
Through it, they said, they’ve found support in the Canton community, particularly through Jackson Local Schools which has helped them connect with community resources to prepare for the new baby.
Now, the family’s focus is on staying healthy.
“There’s some people who are going out here, not even knowing they have it because there’s now those people who don’t have symptoms,” Sierra said. “So now I have to worry about him outside.”
Sam Zern can be reached at [email protected] or 330-580-8322. You can also find her on Twitter at @sam_zern.