They say the holiday season is a time for miracles, but that’s never felt truer for the Fuentes family than it has this year.
The journey that led them here, unfortunately, was absolutely devastating. It all started when 28-year-old Marissa Fuentes, who was 32 weeks pregnant at the time, started feeling lightheaded and short of breath. A trip to the hospital revealed that she had contracted COVID-19.
To make matters worse, because vaccines weren’t fully recommended for pregnant women at the time, she was unvaccinated. Within two days of being admitted into the intensive care unit, she had to have a C-section. As a result, their son Enzo was born two months premature.
After giving birth, Marissa was put on a ventilator and an ECMO machine, which removed carbon dioxide from her blood and sent back blood with oxygen, allowing her heart and lungs time to rest and heal. This is how she spent the next five-and-a-half months.
When Marissa found out she had COVID, so did her husband, Adrian Fuentes. He was able to quarantine at home, but all the while, he was left making care decisions for both his wife and Enzo, who had been diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy. The genetic disease, which is unrelated to COVID, affects the nervous system and kept his son in the NICU all while Marissa was in the ICU.
“I can’t tell you how many phone calls I made every single today to check in on the two of them. Everything was minute by minute, hour by hour. The ECMO was keeping my wife alive while the SMA was killing my son,” Adrian said. “It was extremely scary. There’s just no other way to put it. It was terrifying.”
Still, the Fuentes family pushed on, fighting for themselves and their loved ones. At long last, a ray of hope began to shine when, a couple of weeks after waking up from sedation, Marissa got to meet her son and see her 3-year-old daughter Ellianna in person. The reunion happened on September 11, Marissa’s birthday.
“Seeing them come through the door was literally everything I could have ever asked for. My eyes filled with tears,” she said. “I was able to hold them. It was something that I’ll never forget.”
The months that followed were filled with hours of physical and occupational therapy. Countless times, Marissa felt as though “nothing would get better,” but then she found strength and motivation in her goal to go home.
“I had to relearn everything,” Marissa said. “The first time I sat on the side of the bed it took eight people to sit me up. I had to learn how to stand again. I had to learn how to walk again. I had to learn how to get myself dressed and take care of myself. I had to learn how to talk because I still had the [breathing tube] in.”
November came around and Marissa was transferred to a rehab hospital, where she set a lofty goal for herself: to be home for Thanksgiving. With the big day only two weeks away, to say that her doctor was shocked would be an understatement.
“I told him, ‘I do not want to miss these holidays with them,'” she said. “I was a determined woman.”
So determined, in fact, that she met her goal on November 24, the day before Thanksgiving!
The day Marissa went home was one of celebration! Even her doctors, nurses, and support staff from the ICU stopped by to cheer her on as she exited the rehab facility.
Now back home, Marissa is on oxygen and is using a walker while she works on regaining strength. She’s also receiving occupational and physical therapy. While the road to recovery is ongoing, now that she’s with her family again, she couldn’t be happier, especially since it’s Christmastime.
“Christmas is my favorite time of the year. It always has been. My family has always joked that I’m Mrs. Claus,” she said. “So being able to be home and see the joy on my kids’ faces as they open presents and watching Christmas movies and having our Christmas lasagna that we have every year just brings me so much joy.”
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