Moms accomplish superhuman feats every day, but the fact 32-year-old Poynette, Wisconsin, mom of four Kelsey Townsend is still alive today is a miracle.
After contracting COVID-19 in late October while 39 weeks pregnant, Townsend became critically ill and nearly died despite having no prior underlying health conditions. Months later, she is finally well enough to be home with her family and the baby girl she almost never had the chance to hold.
The Townsends have taken the coronavirus pandemic very seriously and were socially isolating, wearing masks, and even having their groceries delivered, they told TODAY Parents, when they both fell ill in late October along with their oldest child, daughter Payton, 8. Derek Townsend said even now, they don't know how or where they contracted COVID-19.
Derek was hit hard, but he recovered after about 48 hours. Kelsey, however, did not get better. It was late at night when the couple decided she needed to go to the hospital for help; Kelsey did not get to say goodbye to Payton or her younger children, Beau, 5, and Faith, 1, because they were sleeping.
"It broke everyone's hearts," Kelsey said. "It was very emotional."
Once they reached St. Mary's Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, things happened fast. Within an hour of arrival, Kelsey was put into a medically induced coma and wheeled into the delivery room. Her doctors delivered their fourth child, baby Lucy, by C-section on November 4.
Derek, who was still within his isolation period because he had COVID-19, was not allowed to be at the birth or meet the baby; he had to leave the hospital without his critically ill wife or their newborn. He was able to meet and bring Lucy home when his isolation ended on November 6, but he would not be able to see his wife again for a few months due to COVID restrictions.
That began a terrifying and incredible journey for the Townsends. Kelsey was transferred to University Hospital in Madison, where she spent 75 days on an ECMO machine and a ventilator, but even that was tricky: University Hospital's ICU was full, so she had to be placed on a waiting list for a few hours.
"I could hear the desperation in the doctor's voice when they called to say she needed to be transferred," said Derek.
On Christmas Eve, Derek was allowed to go to Kelsey's bedside by special exception, hold her hand, and tell his wife her doctors had determined she would need a double lung transplant as a result of the damage COVID-19 had wrought on her organs.
But to be able to withstand the surgery, she would have to work with rehab therapists and get strong enough in the following week to stand by her bedside. Otherwise, she wouldn't be eligible for a transplant. The rehab was challenging after 10 weeks of being bedridden and with all the medication Kelsey had to take.
But Kelsey did it — and what happened next was nothing short of a miracle. While they waited for a perfect match for a transplant, Kelsey's body began to recover, and quickly. On January 27, she was able to leave the hospital with her own lungs.
"We thought the only way she would come home was with a transplant, so this was pretty miraculous," said Derek.
Kelsey worked hard for that miracle, he said. "Once they told her the quickest way for her to go home and she knew it was an option for her to be able to go home with her own lungs, she really kicked it into high gear," he said. "Physical therapy would come for an hour, and she would ask them to stay for an hour and a half."
Now, Kelsey is helping other pregnant women. "The doctors have told us Kelsey is a case study for the country," said Derek. "They know more about the vaccinations and how they will affect pregnant women because of Kelsey's study."
Coming home, Kelsey said, has been "amazing," and she and Lucy connected instantly.
"I was overjoyed. I have so much to live for all right here in front of me," she said. "I was so excited to come home and hold everyone."
Now, the challenge is to keep Kelsey, who still needs the assistance of an oxygen tank, from doing too much while she continues her recovery at home.
"She's very independent, and I tell her if she overdoes it, I will make her go to the rehab facility instead," said Derek with a laugh. "Her health is what is most important to us."
"He is an amazing husband," said Kelsey.
"We have our happy ending. We are so blessed."
Watch TODAY All Day! Get the best news, information and inspiration from TODAY, all day long.