They say the holidays are a time for miracles, and for the Fuentes family, that has never felt more true than this year.
Unfortunately, the journey that brought them here was a total disaster. Marissa Fuentes, 28, was 32 weeks pregnant at the time when she began to feel lightheaded and short of breath. A visit to the hospital revealed that she had COVID-19.
To make matters worse, she was unvaccinated because vaccines were not fully recommended for pregnant women at the time. She needed a C-section two days after being admitted to the intensive care unit. As a result, their son Enzo arrived two months early.
Marissa was placed on a ventilator and an ECMO machine after giving birth, which removed carbon dioxide from her blood and replaced it with oxygen, giving her heart and lungs time to rest and heal. This is what she did for the next five and a half months.
Adrian Fuentes, Marissa’s husband, was shocked to learn she had COVID. He was able to quarantine himself at home, but he was left to make care decisions for both his wife and Enzo, who had been diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy. The unrelated genetic disease affects the nervous system and kept his son in the NICU the entire time Marissa was in the ICU.
“I can’t tell you how many phone calls I made every single today to check in on the two of them. Everything was minute by minute, hour by hour. The ECMO was keeping my wife alive while the SMA was killing my son,” Adrian said. “It was extremely scary. There’s just no other way to put it. It was terrifying.”
Still, the Fuentes family pushed on, fighting for themselves and their loved ones. At long last, a ray of hope began to shine when, a couple of weeks after waking up from sedation, Marissa got to meet her son and see her 3-year-old daughter Ellianna in person. The reunion happened on September 11, Marissa’s birthday.
“Seeing them walk through the door was literally everything I could have hoped for.” “My eyes welled up with tears,” she explained. “I was able to contain them. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Hours of physical and occupational therapy followed in the months that followed. Marissa felt as if “nothing would ever get better,” but she found strength and motivation in her desire to return home.
“I had to redo everything,” Marissa explained. “It took eight people to get me up the first time I sat on the side of the bed.” I had to relearn how to stand. I had to relearn how to walk. I had to learn how to dress and care for myself. Because I still had the [breathing tube] in, I had to learn how to speak.”
November came around and Marissa was transferred to a rehab hospital, where she set a lofty goal for herself: to be home for Thanksgiving. With the big day only two weeks away, to say that her doctor was shocked would be an understatement.
“I told him, ‘I do not want to miss these holidays with them,’” she said. “I was a determined woman.”
So determined, in fact, that she met her goal on November 24, the day before Thanksgiving!
Marissa’s return home was a joyous occasion! Even her ICU doctors, nurses, and support staff cheered her on as she left the rehab facility.
Marissa is now back at home, on oxygen, and using a walker as she works to regain strength. In addition, she is undergoing occupational and physical therapy. While her road to recovery is still ongoing, she couldn’t be happier to be back with her family, especially since it’s Christmastime.
“Christmas is my favorite time of the year. It always has been. My family has always joked that I’m Mrs. Claus,” she said. “So being able to be home and see the joy on my kids’ faces as they open presents and watch Christmas movies and having our Christmas lasagna that we have every year just brings me so much joy.”
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