By Jamie Leary

WELD COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– One year after nearly losing her life to COVID while pregnant, 38-year-old Veronica Markley is hoping her story of survival encourages others to mask up and get vaccinated.

“Be considerate because you just don’t know how this might affect you or the people in your lives that you interact with, so I was hoping that might inspire people to wear a mask or get vaccinated,” she continued, “because who wants to see a pregnant mother on life support? It’s heartbreaking.”

(credit: Markley family)

Markley, an art teacher for the Weld County school district, was just over 30 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with COVID. She had no underlying health issues and had been staying home since school transitioned to online learning.

“At that time, I was taking quarantine very seriously. The only places I went were on walks outside and to my OBGYN,” she said.

Her condition quickly deteriorated, and she was admitted to the ICU at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s and put on a ventilator.

“She was appropriately full of fear as she was about to be intubated because it is an absolutely terrifying experience and she was feeling so terrible,” said Dr. Bronwen Kahn of the Obstetrix Medical Group of Colorado.

Kahn is board certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology and Maternal-Fetal Medicine and oversaw care for Markley at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s.

(credit: Veronica Markley)

At the time Markley was admitted, there was very little data surrounding the impacts of COVID on pregnant women, but since, severe cases have been rare, and Kahn says most will make a full recovery.

“Many do actually. So, pregnancy is a risk factor for more severe illness but only by a few percentage points,” Kahn continued, “So for example, influenza and other respiratory viruses really hit pregnant women much much harder than the coronavirus does and we feel very fortunate for that. So, it’s a few percentage points higher in terms of the number of pregnant people who get coronavirus who become critically ill, than it is for the general population so, maybe 5 to 8 percent of people who get this viral illness can get as sick as Veronica did.”

There were other expectant mothers at PSL with COVID, but none were as sick as Veronica, but she was the only one who didn’t have to have an emergency cesarean section.

“Most of the other women who got as sick as she did in the early stages of this pandemic, ended up requiring delivery either because of their own status, getting much sicker and requiring more and more support, or because their babies were struggling in some way,” said Kahn.

Markley was discharged two weeks later on April 21st. While her recovery would take the better part of the year, her baby was healthy.

“They said that the baby throughout the intubation and my ordeal, the baby had a strong heartbeat she was good, and I think ultimately that was the reason I didn’t have an emergency C-section.”

Luna was born in June, a month early, but healthy and happy.

“We were so thrilled that she’s done so so well. She sent me some gorgeous pictures of her beautiful baby and her older toddler, and I was able to take those downstairs to our ICU staff and they were thrilled. It just fills our hearts with so much reward. We don’t often get that kind of really happy feedback, especially in the ICU and the staff really expressed their gratitude to Veronica for reaching back out with her beautiful pictures and her really amazing success story.”

While taking a leave from teaching Veronica also painted portraits for some of the staff as a thank you. Due to restrictions, her family couldn’t be by her side so staff at PSL helped her not only physically, but emotionally.

(credit: Veronica Markley)

“Combing my hair, talking to me, holding my hand… you know when I scared, they could tell because you know my eyes, I’m sure, were as big as saucers or I was crying,” said Markley.

She said she hopes people not only are inspired to continue wearing masks and get vaccinated, but to take time for family.

“I am blessed to be here because it was a really close call, and that’s scary to think about, but when you think about just what I’ve been able to experience this past year seeing Rio grow, and Luna grow, it just makes you so much more thankful for life. Which is such a cliche thing to say but it’s so true. It puts everything into perspective.”

Jamie Leary