COVID-19: The Toll on the Unborn Part 2

Dr. Rachel Morris with UMMC shares what doctors have learned so far about COVID-19 and pregnancy

COVID-19: The Toll on the Unborn Part 2

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - In Part 2 of our special report we continue our exclusive 3 On Your Side Investigates COVID-19: The Toll on the Unborn.

A Madison psychologist shares the pain and loss of her unborn daughter to COVID. Dr. Alyssa Killebrew tells us she wants to help other mothers and talks about her hope for her little daughter’s legacy.

Dr. Killebrew wants to carry on the legacy of Sarah Elizabeth by setting up a special camp for children who experience grief.
Dr. Killebrew wants to carry on the legacy of Sarah Elizabeth by setting up a special camp for children who experience grief. (Source: Dr. Alyssa Killebrew)

“I have decided that this loss can make me bitter or it can make me better. And I really, really want this little girl’s life to mean something,” Dr. Killebrew said.

Killebrew says going from a model pregnancy after IVF to losing her baby to COVID was devastating, shocking and unbelievable.

“Later I found out that through an autopsy that we had a a clot in my placenta which is common with COVID. I didn’t know that at the time and I thought I was protected because I was on a blood thinner. But the blood thinner I was on wasn’t working.”

She and her husband named their baby girl Sarah Elizabeth.

Dr. Killebrew said, “Which means Vowing this Princess to God. And she’s named after my best friend Sarai and Sarai died several months before Sarah Elizabeth died and we laid her to rest there by my best friend.”

Killebrew says her goal now is that her little girl’s legacy will help others who are going through the same agonizing, unbearable loss. She said in a gripping and emotional Facebook post, “Sarah Elizabeth had her life taken from her because of a virus that is leaving a terrifying trail of tragedies in its wake.

“I want to use this. I don’t want to waste a minute of this grief and suffering. I want to use this to help my patients. I treat all ages. I treat children. I treat adults. I treat the older population and I also work at the prison. I’m not just gonna recite words anymore. I know what it means to suffer and to experience immense grief and loss.”

Dr. Rachel Morris specializes in Maternal Fetal Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. She has seen the toll of COVID-19 on expectant mothers and their babies.

Dr. Morris says doctors are seeing a lot of COVID in pregnancy, but there are many unknowns.
Dr. Morris says doctors are seeing a lot of COVID in pregnancy, but there are many unknowns. (Source: WLBT)

“We are seeing a lot of COVID in pregnancy, much more than I even expected when this pandemic hit about a year ago,” Dr. Morris said. “The CDC reports over 65,000 women across the U.S. have contracted COVID. That is a scary number and unfortunately reporting the numbers at this point has been quite an ordeal on the state level. So I’m concerned that these numbers aren’t even accurate. They’re only reporting about 75 deaths. Again this is an under representation of the true number of deaths that we’ve had.”

At UMMC, six mothers have died. They were between 19 to 40 years old. One newborn tested positive for COVID. There have been over 250 cases of mothers with COVID. Ten have been in ICU. There have also been 12 perinatal losses--stillbirths or miscarriages.

“All the providers in Jackson, obstetric providers as well as myself could tell you we’ve all noticed an increase in stillbirths,” Dr. Morris said. “Again, the data is inconsistent. It’s saying that there’s not a significant increase in the rates of miscarriages at this point, but we’ve all seen it. We’ve seen mothers with mild disease, mothers with severe disease, mothers that have made it to the hospital are much more likely to have a stillbirth.”

We checked with the Mississippi State Department of Health to find out if there is information from hospitals statewide. We received this statement:

“Unfortunately we do not have that level of information regarding pregnancy outcomes for individuals with COVID-19.”

Dr. Morris says there are still many unknowns.

“COVID is different. We don’t think, again, it infects the baby directly. Again there are very limited reports about that. But it’s doing something to the placenta. We know that it’s causing some kind of inflammatory response and that’s what’s leading to things like growth restriction, low fluid, and stillbirth.”

Dr. Killebrew has received the vaccine. Dr. Morris says pregnant women should get the shot.

“To be honest it’s really overwhelming. It’s been very hard. These are our mothers, these are our babies. Their loss is our loss. We feel every success, and we feel every loss that they have.”

The State Health Department tells us, “Pregnancy is one of the underlying medical conditions in persons aged 16-64 that are recommended to receive the vaccine due to increased risk of severe outcomes.”

“COVID is not safe in pregnancy and the vaccine at this point is not felt to hurt the baby or the pregnancy. In fact it’s felt to be safe in lactating women too,” Dr. Morris said.

Dr. Killebrew is seeing patients again. She and her husband have a special plan to honor Sarah Elizabeth’s memory.

“We would like to do some week-long intensives for children who are experiencing grief and loss or who are experiencing depression and anxiety. We want to make a little camp in her name.”

With all the tragedy and heartbreak, there is positive news. Dr. Morris says 95 percent of the mothers who get COVID will have healthy pregnancies. And Dr. Killebrew and her husband have gone back to Colorado to try for another pregnancy.

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