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Wisconsin mother meets baby delivered during COVID-19 coma

The Townsends and their four small children.
The Townsends pose for a photo in Poynette, Wis., on Jan. 27, the day after mom Kelsey came home from a three-month hospital stay due to COVID-19.
(Taryn Ziegler / Taryn Marie Photography)

Nearly three months after Kelsey Townsend gave birth to her fourth child, the 32-year-old Wisconsin woman was finally face-to-face with her.

Lucy, bright-eyed and alert, flashed her a smile.

“Hi. I love you. I love you so much. Yeah, I’ve missed you,” Kelsey Townsend told her.

Townsend was in a medically induced coma with COVID-19 when she gave birth to Lucy via cesarean section on Nov. 4, not long after getting to SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison. She ended up spending 75 days on life and lung support. She finally met Lucy on Jan. 27 — the day Kelsey was discharged from University Hospital in Madison.

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“We instantly bonded when we met. She gave me a great big smile and looked at me like she knew exactly who I was, and that made me feel just so happy,” the Poynette, Wis., woman said.

Dr. Jennifer Krupp, a maternal fetal medicine specialist and the women’s and newborn health medical director for SSM Health Wisconsin Region, said Townsend’s story was a rare one.

Kelsey Townsend’s oxygen saturation was very low when she arrived at the hospital — so low that a fetus’ brain and other organs could be damaged — and her skin was tinged gray and blue, Dr. Thomas Littlefield said via email Wednesday, so her baby had to be delivered as soon as possible.

Doctors thought Townsend might need a double lung transplant at the end of December. But then she started improving — so much so that she was moved out of the intensive care unit, taken off a ventilator in mid-January and removed from the transplant waiting list.

Townsend’s husband, Derek Townsend, described the experience as a “big roller coaster.”

“There was many, many nights that I would get phone calls late at night and into the early morning, and the doctors kind of informed me that they’ve done all that they can to support Kelsey and they’re having a hard time stabilizing,” he said. “So there was many times that we thought we were going to lose her.”

Derek Townsend said even his infant daughter seemed to notice someone was missing when his wife was still hospitalized.

“The past three months with Lucy, you know, her head is always moving and she’s always looking. And I told Kelsey that I believe she’s just constantly looking for, for her,” he said.

The pair contracted COVID-19 despite taking precautions, Derek Townsend said. As he got better, his wife got worse. That’s when they went to the hospital.

“Family is everything to me,” Kelsey Townsend said. “So I have everything to live for right here and coming home. There was no question that I wouldn’t.”


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