Vanessa Alfermann, 33, was 22 weeks pregnant last November when she and her husband both contracted COVID-19 — but while her symptoms were otherwise mild, they did cause a dangerous placental abruption that sent her into early labor.
She soon gave birth to a baby boy named Axel, who at 18 weeks premature died almost immediately after being born.
Alfermann, who was immunized a month later when the vaccine received emergency approval, is now fighting vaccine misinformation and warning other pregnant women to get the shot.
‘There’s so much misinformation out there that’s killing people and it’s frustrating,’ she said. ‘I speak out about this for Axel’s legacy.’
Tragic: Vanessa Alfermann, 33, was 22 weeks pregnant last November when she and her husband both contracted COVID-19
She had mild symptoms like a headache and loss of smell and taste. But after some back pain and cramps, she went into labor prematurely and delivered a baby who didn’t survive
Alfermann, a registered nurse at Missouri Baptist Sullivan, has a son and stepdaughter and was excitedly awaiting the arrival of another child last fall when she tested positive for the virus.
‘My husband had symptoms and he tested positive and the next day I also tested positive,’ she told Good Morning America.
‘I never had shortness of breath but was just really tired,’ she went on, adding that she also experienced headaches and loss of taste and smell.
But 10 days after positive test, she also began experiencing back pain and cramps, and went to the OBGYN to get checked out.
‘The baby was fine [in an ultrasound] but my white blood cells were really high and they said I had an infection from COVID and gave me an antibiotic and some muscle relaxers to go home with,’ she recalled.
‘The next morning at about 1:30 I got up and realized I was in labor.’
COVID-19 had caused blood clots in her placenta which led to dangerous placenta abruption, which sent her into early labor
Alfermann hadn’t been vaccinated because it wasn’t yet available, but she has since had the shot
Alfermann was just 22 weeks pregnant, two weeks shy of the 24 weeks when a fetus is considered viable.
With her husband in isolation, Alfermann’s mother-in-law drove her to the hospital, where she soon gave birth to baby Axel, who died almost immediately.
‘Within a half hour from me getting there and getting up to the [labor and delivery] floor, Axel was born. I didn’t even get to hold him. The NICU people held him and he took his breath with them and then he passed away,’ Alfermann said.
She learned that blood clots in her placenta due to COVID had caused a placental abruption, a condition in which the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus before birth.
The condition is dangerous for both mother and baby, as the fetus can be deprived of oxygen and the mother can die as well.
‘It was mind-blowing because don’t think you’re going to get a blood clot on your placenta,’ Alfermann said of possible COVID symptoms.
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‘[You think] you’re going to be put on a ventilator because you can’t breathe. I went through all of these emotions but I also thought if this is what’s coming, what COVID does, it just scared me.’
Alfermann went on to get vaccinated in December, said while she was happy to get the shot, she was heartbroken that she hadn’t been able to get it sooner
‘I could still be waiting to have my baby boy,’ she said. ‘It’s very bittersweet.’
She is now urging other pregnant women — three out of four of whom in the US are unvaccinated — to get the shot as well.
The CDC has recommended the vaccine for pregnant women, and pointed out that COVID-19 can be particularly dangerous for them.
COVID-19 can cause pregnant women to deliver prematurely, and one doctor told GMA that her hospital has seen more stillbirths among COVID-positive pregnant patients.