Pregnant And On a Ventilator: This Colorado Mom Survived Coronavirus And Just Gave Birth

July 29, 2020
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKPregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
In late May, Veronica, center, and her husband, visited Presbyterian St. Lukes in Denver for a regularly scheduled ultrasound exam. A routine event, except that everyone’s in face masks and wearing latex gloves. Sonographer Jenna Pongo performed the ultrasound while nurse practitioner Debora Bellesheim watches the overhead monitor.

Late in May, a very pregnant Veronica Markley laid back on an exam table in a darkened, quiet room at Presbyterian St. Luke's Hospital in Denver, her red and white striped shirt pulled up and away from her belly as a sonographer gently moved an ultrasound scanner across her midriff. Her husband, Kyle, held her left hand in his right, both hands clad in protective gloves, and together their eyes peered over protective face masks to a monitor on the wall across the room.

The baby in Veronica's womb looked healthy, Jenna Pongo told them in the darkened, quiet room while she looked at her own monitor and made notes. Maybe a little small, but fine. A nurse practitioner, Debora Bellesheim, also watched the monitor and described for Veronica how the remaining weeks of the pregnancy ought to proceed, and how they would all talk soon about delivering Veronica and Kyle's second child.

Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Veronica Markley watches her husband Kyle as he watches the images from her May ultrasound.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Kyle Markley fetches some personal items from the family car in the basement of Presbyterian St. Lukes in Denver.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Sonographer Jenna Pongo performs the ultrasound on Veronica, who listens as nurse practitioner Debora Bellesheim explains developments.

This would be a birth in the time of coronavirus, with a heart-stopping twist in an already far-from-ordinary moment: Veronica survived COVID-19 while she was pregnant. It hadn't been that long ago that the 37-year-old Greeley teacher had spent two weeks in the hospital, including numerous days on a ventilator.

Veronica and Kyle learned she was pregnant last Halloween, and they were excited. But by March, the world turned sideways as the coronavirus spread through Colorado.

Veronica teaches art at Jackson Elementary School in Greeley, which went into an extended spring break to keep students safe, from March 14-29, "and I never went back." Neither did the students; to whom she was never able to say goodbye for the year. She'd started feeling ill before the break; at 27 weeks she found herself admitted to Presbyterian St. Luke's and deteriorating fast.

"I remember the doctor coming in and saying, 'We need you to sign these papers in case things get, you know, worst-case scenario type stuff," Veronica told Claire Cleveland of CPR News. "And I was kinda worried, and she was so professional and calm, but I could see the concern in her face, like when she was like giving me paper after paper, after paper to sign.”

To add to their anguish, Veronica and Kyle had to say goodbye to her son Rio, whom Kyle took to his parents' house in Ohio while Veronica was in the hospital — it would be more than a month before they saw Rio again, missing his second birthday, as well as Mother's Day. Once Veronica was home, Rio was brought home again, on May 31.

Now their Greeley home was more or less ready. Diapers were stacking up. Rio's old crib was set up one side of the nursery bedroom for the baby, his little bed was on the other. A rocking chair was in the middle and toys — including his prized Buzz Lightyear — were strewn about as Rio scurried around under the watchful eyes of his parents.

Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Rio Markley, 2, potters around the family kitchen in Greeley under the watchful eye of his parents. The boy had to go live with his grandparents in Ohio while Veronica was hospitalized with COVID-19. Veronica and Kyle say it was a relief to have the family back together before her baby was born.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Veronica plays with Rio in early June.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Veronica and Kyle with Rio in the child's bedroom in early June, which he’ll soon share with the new baby who will sleep in his original crib at left.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Veronica and Kyle play with Rio, a happy and rambunctious 2-year-old, in his bedroom.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Veronica watches her son Rio in the front doorway of their Greeley home.

By the time Veronica and Kyle arrived back at Presbyterian St. Luke's on June 18, ready for her to be induced, the hospital was under a tight lockdown; waiting rooms were deserted, gloved and masked staff gave each other wide social-distancing berth, water fountains were taped off, hand sanitizer dispensers were everywhere.

Veronica and Kyle wore masks and gloves too, as they parked in the basement garage and then made their way up to the hospital's birth center and were led through quiet hallways to her delivery room. She donned a hospital gown, listened with Kyle as nurses described the procedures, and then she laid back as monitors were placed on her belly, blood pressure and oxygen level monitors put in place on arms and fingers, and blood drawn — all standard procedures except the only way to read her feelings was through her eyes peering above her face mask.

Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Veronica Markley and her husband Kyle arrive at Presbyterian St. Luke’s in Denver on June 18. In mask and gloves, she waits by the car as Kyle pulls overnight bags from the car, which is parked in a special area reserved for moms about to give birth.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Veronica and Kyle Markley hold gloved hands as they walk from their car to the elevator.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Veronica Markley folds her arms over her belly after donning a hospital gown.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Kyle and Veronica Markley listen to nurses describing the plan for inducement and birth.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
The comfort of favorite slippers and socks.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Nurse Hilary Boyd, left, holds Veronica’s left hand as nurse Katie Rounds prepares Veronica for a blood draw at Presbyterian St. Luke’s.

One thing that was different: New protocols meant that Veronica needed a final COVID-19 test. So she closed her eyes as nurse Hilary Boyd, protected with a face shield as well as mask, inserted the impossibly long swab in Veronica's nose. Then Kyle rubbed Veronica's feet and the medical staff got her ready to be induced.

To everyone's shock later that night, Veronica's test came back positive.

Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Veronica closes her eyes and readies herself for her final coronavirus nasal swab test as nurse Hilary Boyd, left, holds the nose swab. The test came back positive, even though Veronica had no symptoms, rattling both her and her husband.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Kyle rubs Veronica’s feet in her hospital room as she waits to begin the inducement process.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKCourtesy Kyle Markley
Luna is born the next day. Kyle made this photo of baby and mom resting soon after.

Veronica had felt fine — asymptomatic is the word with which the world has become familiar. And she was already in labor when the test result came back, so there was no turning back.

By the evening of June 19, little baby Luna, all 6 pounds of her, was welcomed to the Markley family. And the new COVID-19 scare was short-lived: Veronica never got sick again; the doctors said the positive test was very likely incorrect.

Now Luna is home with Veronica and Kyle and little Rio.

“It was not the birth that I would have wanted for myself and my little daughter,” she said.

“They put her on my chest for a little while, like just for a very short amount of time,” Veronica said. “With my son, I was able to like have that golden hour with him. He was able to latch on by himself just have those sweet bonding moments together. And I didn't get that with our little girl, and that was really hard. It was really hard, but I also understood it was for her safety, if for whatever reason I was contagious, I wouldn't want to pass that to her.”

So now this is newborn time in the age of coronavirus for the Markleys. Kyle will get some time off from his job at Hertz to help around the house, and Veronica is on maternity leave until November. Because of the virus and its effect on school openings and in-person classes, she still doesn't know when she'll actually meet her students and tell them her story.

Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Two-year-old Rio reaches out to touch his new baby sister.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Kyle Markley holds his baby daughter Luna.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Veronica Markley cradles baby Luna in her lap.
Pregnant Veronica Markley Survives COVID Delivers Baby NO FILE NO STOCKHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Baby Luna naps as big brother Rio hovers nearby.

CPR's Claire Cleveland contributed to this photo essay.

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