Saving Sophia’s Baby: A doctor’s honesty builds trust

When Sophia Covarrubias was referred to the Center for Maternal and Fetal Care at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, she didn’t know what to expect. It is here where she met Dr. Emma Rodriguez, the physician who would be brutally honest with her about her pregnancy which in the end would save her baby’s life.

 “This doctor explained things in very black and white terms, and I wasn’t sure how to take it,” said Sophia.

But after giving the news more thought, she decided Dr. Rodriguez’s honest assessment may not have been what she wanted to hear, but it was exactly what she needed.

A couple of years earlier, Sophia had a scary pregnancy, one in which she lost her baby. Not wanting to relive that traumatic experience with another pregnancy and knowing she was high risk, she continued to see Dr. Rodriguez.  She decided she liked how thorough Dr.  Rodriguez was and how she based her assessments on Sophia’s history and not necessarily her current condition.

Emma Rodriguez, MD, cares for women experiencing high-risk pregnancies. She is part of the team at the Center for Maternal and Fetal Care at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.

With her first pregnancy, she was young and knew deep down something was wrong with her baby, but her doctor wouldn’t listen to her. This taught her the importance of speaking up and getting to a doctor who could help her which is what she did this time around. When her regular obstetrician suggested she was high-risk with her second pregnancy, she immediately called The Center for Maternal and Fetal Care at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio to consult with a high-risk maternal fetal medicine specialist who deals with pregnancy complications on a daily basis.

“I felt safe with Dr. Rodriguez,” said Sophia. “She made me feel like she cared about me not only as her patient, but as a person. There was just something about her that made me feel special.”

When Sophia was 22 weeks pregnant, she developed a shortened cervix, which concerned Dr. Rodriguez. She told Sophia about cerclage surgery, which is a procedure designed to strengthen the cervix with a surgical stitch to reduce the risk of miscarriage or pre-term birth.

Dr. Rodriguez told Sophia the procedure would involve some risk and that she could not guarantee it would work, but the doctor said it was the best option to bring Sophia closer to her due date. Dr. Rodriguez instructed Sophia to follow up with her in three days.

The next day while Sophia was driving to work, Dr. Rodriguez called her and told she was so worried that she didn’t sleep the night before. She was concerned about Sophia and strongly recommended that she have the cerclage procedure as soon as possible.

“I was blown away that Dr. Rodriguez would take time to call me,” said Sophia.  “The next thing you know, I was asking for time off at work and calling my fiancé and telling him to pack a bag.”

That same day, Sophia had the surgery.

After a week of bed rest, Sophia was back at work and continuing her usual activities. At 36 weeks, she returned to the hospital to have the cerclage removed. The medical team believed Sophia would give birth right then because her cervix was so weak.

But she ended up making it a little more than 38 weeks before giving birth.

On a Sunday evening in early January, Sophia and her fiancé headed to CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital. Although her water hadn’t broken yet, the medical team knew it was just a matter of time before the baby would arrive.

After a few uneventful hours of labor on January 4, 2021, Anahi was born weighing six pounds, 11 ounces. She was the perfect picture of health and required no time in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“The whole experience was so awesome,” said Sophia. “Everything went so smoothly, and I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.”

At her nearest opportunity, Dr. Rodriguez was the first person Sophia called after Anahi was born. She remembers how happy Dr. Rodriguez was that there were no issues.

“Dr. Rodriguez’s phone call that day and her persistence that I have surgery right away saved my baby’s life,” said Sophia.  “While I knew she had other patients to see, Dr. Rodriguez always made me feel like I was her only one and the center of her attention.”

Sophia said she will definitely go to Dr. Rodriguez for any future pregnancies because of the way Dr. Rodriguez made her feel and the trust Sophia had in her.

Today Sophia and Anahi are doing well, and Sophia is immensely grateful to Dr. Rodriguez for everything she did for both her and her daughter.   

“Dr. Rodriguez is truly amazing and has given me a lot of hope,” said Sophia. “I truly thank her for everything.”

If you are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy, talk to your obstetrician about a referral to our experienced team at the Center for Maternal and Fetal Care at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.

Research shows COVID-19 vaccine does no harm to placenta

A new study, released this week by Northwestern Medicine, gives new insight into the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy and reiterates the safety of the vaccine for pregnant women and their babies.

In this study, published in the Journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, researchers focused on the placenta, the first organ that forms during pregnancy and does most of the work for fetus while it is forming such as providing oxygen while the lungs develop and nutrition while the gut is forming. The placenta acts as a window into the pregnancy. If something is wrong with the placenta, it alerts doctors to investigate what may be going wrong in the pregnancy.

According to the study, researchers examined the placentas from 84 patients who received the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy and 116 unvaccinated patients. The study found no evidence of injury to the placentas after receiving the vaccine. Most of the patients received either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines during their third trimester.

“This was a really interesting study and very well done,” said Dr. Shad Deering, who specializes in high-risk pregnancies at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio and serves as Associate Dean at Baylor College of Medicine. “Looking at the placenta was a really good way to see the effects of the vaccine. By looking for evidence of inflammation or damage to the placentas after vaccination, it gives you real data on how the vaccine could affect the development of the baby. The fact that they found no difference in the two groups is a big step forward to bring us the answers we need for our patients and more evidence that shows the vaccine is safe in pregnancy.”

Dr. Shad Deering, Associate Dean at Baylor College of Medicine, says a newly released study that examined placentas is a positive step forward in demonstrating the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors have learned that if a pregnant woman contracts COVID-19 they are at a higher risk of serious complications from the virus. Because of these potentially serious risks, Dr. Deering and his maternal fetal medicine colleagues at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio advise those who are pregnant should weigh the risks and benefits of getting the vaccine and consult with their physician if they have questions.

“While more long-term studies are in the works and need to be done, this study was a great step forward in giving us information we can feel comfortable sharing with our patients,” said Dr. Deering. “It’s basically another level of confirmation that the vaccine not only does what it’s supposed to in protecting the mom but does so without harming the baby.”

If you are pregnant and considering getting the vaccine, please consult with your physician. For more information on the things you should consider when talking with your physician, please see a blog from The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio written when COVID-19 vaccines became available in late 2020.

If you are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy, talk to your doctor about a referral to the Center for Maternal and Fetal Care a program of The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.

High-Risk Pregnancy Specialists Give Mom Hope

When Marinah Lucio found out she was pregnant, she got a big shock. Marinah already had two boys at home, and she and her husband were trying for their third, but God had other plans for this pregnancy. She found out she would be having twin girls.

“Finding out we were having twins was a real shocker,” explains Marinah.  “We were excited because we were trying for our third and we got our third and fourth.”

This pregnancy was already significantly different than the one with her boys. She remembers how her first two pregnancies were really easy. She was never sick with her boys, but with this one she really struggled in her first trimester.  

“This one really rocked me. I mean it was just so different,” Marinah remembers. “I would take three naps a day. I was just so tired and really nauseous.”

Other than the normal pregnancy symptoms, Marinah’s first trimester went pretty smoothly and the babies were developing normally. At 19 weeks, that all changed. During Marinah’s scheduled anatomy exam, she learned she had a short cervix.

“My cervix was extremely short according to my doctor. A normal cervix is supposed to be between three to five centimeters and mine was 0.6,” said Marinah.

There are generally two treatment options for a short cervix. For some women, a doctor may recommend a cerclage. This is a stitch in the cervix that reinforces it, reducing the risk of pregnancy loss or preterm labor. In Marinah’s case, her cervix was too short for a cerclage, so the doctor sent her home and put her on bedrest for two weeks.

At 21 weeks, things really began to change. At Marinah’s next appointment, she learned she had no cervix at all. The maternal fetal medicine (MFM) doctor she was seeing told her there was nothing they could do for her and sent her home.

“They couldn’t do anything and they didn’t want to admit me—absolutely nothing,” explains Marinah. “I felt so defeated like no one wanted to help save these babies.”

Soon after that appointment, she was admitted to the hospital because she was dilated to four centimeters. Because the hospital was not equipped to handle such premature twins, she was transferred to The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio where they have the highest level of NICU care for babies. The doctor’s goal would be to watch Marinah closely and keep those babies in as long as possible.

When Marinah arrived at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, she met two doctors from The Center for Maternal and Fetal Care who watched Marinah very closely.

“I saw two of the MFMs when I first arrived at the hospital. They were extremely sweet,” remembers Marinah.  “I felt very comfortable with them and felt hopeful because they were at least trying to help me and listen to me. It was so different than my original MFM who couldn’t give me any information or direction. I went from feeling defeated to feeling like I might actually get to meet my baby girls.”

At 23 weeks on October 7, 2020, Marinah was no longer able to keep the babies in. That week, she begged the MFMs to let her go home, but they were adamant she stay in the hospital and that turned out to be the right decision.

“The labor happened so quickly,” recalls Marinah. “At 3 p.m. I started having contractions and by 9 p.m. the girls were delivered. It was very traumatizing, but the nurses and everyone there were so supportive. I felt in such great hands with the nurses I had.”

Because the girls, name Gianna and Isabella, were considered micro-preemies, they were immediately rushed to the NICU where they would spend 125 days growing and getting strong enough to go home.

Marinah remembers those first few days in the NICU, “In the beginning, it was hard. We were holding our breath for the first few weeks. Sadly, Gianna struggled in her first days of life and passed away at 12 days old. I just wanted to hold her. The entire staff was so understanding and compassionate. They just helped me hold her and give her to me and give me that time which I am so thankful for.”

Marinah knew she had to remain strong for Isabella who would remain in the NICU and continue to fight. Marinah remembers the NICU being a roller coaster but was thankful Isabella didn’t have to endure any surgeries. She really got to know her nursing staff and was grateful for all they did for Isabella.

“The nurse who made the ladybug outfit for Isabella was the best nurse ever. I could tell she really cared about my daughter,” said Marinah. “One time Isabella wasn’t tolerating me touching her and her heart rate and oxygen would drop. This nurse would tell me, ‘I know you want to touch her, but you have to stop.’  I knew she was protecting Isabella and you could tell that she loved and cared for her as her own.”

A NICU nurse at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio made an extra tiny lady bug costume for Isabella, making her first Halloween special. Marinah was grateful for the care her daughters received in the NICU.

On February 9, Isabella was finally cleared to go home.

“I was just so happy. Coming in, I was pregnant with both of my girls and I had to leave with just one, but she was healthy,” explain Marinah. “She did come home on a small amount of oxygen but started to thrive when she got home. She is close to nine pounds and eating like a champ. She is breastfeeding and gaining weight like she should be and she has her two brothers who absolutely love her.”

Marinah is grateful for the support and guidance she received from the MFMs, OBs and the nurses she had at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. What started out as a story of defeat ended with a story filled with hope, love and a healthy baby girl.

If you experience complications during your pregnancy, please talk to your doctor about a referral to the Centers for Maternal Fetal Care. We offer three convenient locations with a team of compassionate and experienced physicians. Visit our website for more information at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Centers for Maternal Fetal Care.