PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Charma Jonathas has a 4-month-old baby girl, Abagail. Jonathas, whose baby was born in August, is reflecting on the past four months and looking ahead to the future.
"Tested positive and then it all went down from there," she said. "My main goal was to give birth to a healthy baby. The priority was to give birth to her and then take care of myself after."
Her journey went from testing positive for COVID-19 and then giving birth at a hospital in Martin County. Jonathas was then transferred to Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center for a specialized machine.
"I knew I had to go home to them because, you know, no one does it quite like mom," she said. "That was my main motivation. There was never a time I felt like quitting or giving up."
Dr. Nishant Patel, a cardiac surgeon at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, said things progressed quickly.
"Tested positive for COVID," he said. "She was relatively stable at that time. Delivered a beautiful, healthy baby girl, and shortly after that had a sudden decline in her lung function."
He said she then went on a ventilator.
"She continued to decline," he said.
Staff at the hospital in Martin County then put the call out for an ECMO machine, locating one at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center. She went on it for months.
"It allows her lungs to rest and to heal, and the machine does the work of the lungs," Patel said.
Jonathas said it was a battle to get back with her newborn, three other children and husband.
"Kept pushing every day -- every single day. Every day," she said. "When I woke up, it all came back to me. You know, I felt my belly and I said, 'Wow.' I knew I had had a baby when everything was coming back, and I knew I had to get back to her."
Dr. Leslie Diaz is the infection control director at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.
"Here is a young lady fighting for her life, fighting to be there for her family," she said. "Her will was enormous to live."
Diaz reflected on this moment with a beloved patient.
"She is an inspiration for me, because the two years of COVID have been very taxing for all of us," she said. "To see her where she is at now, at home with her family enjoying the holidays, is extremely gratifying, and this is precisely the moment where I say, 'I gotta keep on doing it.' It keeps my fuel going to be able to do it for the next person that needs it."
Diaz also took the opportunity to urge pregnant women to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
"You really need to focus and shift your fear in the right stuff, and the fear should be the situation that this patient was in," she explained. "That's fear, the not knowing if you're going to make it home, the not knowing if you are ever going to see your born baby again. … This is a happy ending. This is a very good story, but this is not the common. The common is 85% of patients that would've been in her scenario don't make it."
There was a brief reunion at the hospital between Jonathas and the doctors and nurses who saved her life.
"I felt the love," Jonathas said. "I felt their time and dedication, and I just want to say 'thank you' to the hospital and the staff, the nurses. To make it home for Christmas, I'm truly happy to be home for Christmas."