A mother with COVID-19 who recently gave birth has strongly encouraged others to have the vaccine after she became so ill that her relatives were advised to prepare for her end of life care.
Shem McLeod, who turns 44 next week, gave birth prematurely on July 25 at 33 weeks. She has not had her COVID-19 vaccine and has been so poorly she has still not seen her baby son, apart from video calls. Now after five weeks in Walsall Manor Hospital and having been in a coma, she is having to learn to walk again.
Shem, who has three other sons aged 20, 11 and two, had a Caesarean at City Hospital in Birmingham after becoming ill before being transferred to Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust because of demand for beds.
“I was one of those who thought ‘it won’t happen to me’,” said Shem, who had no underlying health conditions. “I think my risk increased because I was pregnant. But I’m definitely going to have the vaccine as soon as I can and I would strongly encourage others to do the same. This experience has changed me – I want to promote the vaccine because it’s better to have the jab than be in the situation I’ve been in.
“My friends and family were told the next stage for me would be end of life care and they said ‘Are you serious?’ My heart, kidney and lungs were fighting against each other which is why they had to put me into a coma. I feel very grateful for the doctors and nurses to enable me to be here and to my family and friends for their support.”
Shem is a frontline key worker for a local authority in the Birmingham area, where she lives. Unwell with a persistent cough, she tested positive for Covid in the maternity unit. On returning home, her partner, a chef, was so worried about her condition he called for an ambulance and she was admitted to City Hospital on July 24, giving birth a day later.
“I was coughing for some time and I couldn’t shift it,” recalled Shem. “It got to a point where I was lying on the floor struggling to breathe. My last real memory was getting into the ambulance.”
At City Hospital, Shem underwent a Caesarean before being placed in an induced coma, which she says was crucial to her and her baby’s survival.
“They performed a C-section because of the danger and to save both our lives,” she added. “They stabilised me and put me into a coma and I was then transferred to Walsall.”
Shem is hoping to be able to see her baby or be allowed home to be reunited with her family. But she doesn’t know when she’s going to be well enough as she is having to learn to walk again.
“I miss all my children but it’s been especially hard with the two-year-old because he doesn’t understand why his mum isn’t there,” said Shem. “We’ve had video calls but when I was in critical care I had wires and tubes coming out of me so it wasn’t until a couple of days ago when those things were removed that he recognised me. I haven’t been able to be with my baby either – I was sedated before so I had no awareness of him, then he was taken to neonatal.
“I’m not sure when I’ll be able to go home because I wouldn’t be able to look after my children. I’ve been told it could be months before I regain my physical strength, but I’m eager to meet my new baby.”
Just two weeks before giving birth, Shem was dancing to her favourite reggae, R ‘n’ B and soul music at her cousin’s party but her legs are currently in splints for four hours at a time because her feet have ‘dropped’ after so long in bed and she can only walk a couple of steps.
“Occupational therapists have been a great help in supporting me to stand because after five weeks in bed, I’ve lost the ability to walk,” she said. “It could be months before I get back to normal.”
Shem is now back at City Hospital for her ongoing care and her baby son is at home.