Mariecen Agillon and husband with their twins-1628053570249
Mariecen Agillon and her husband with their twins and the doctors who made the delivery possible Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A 26-year-old COVID-positive expatriate woman in Dubai successfully delivered twins and was also allowed to breastfeed them. Thanks to a team of Dubai doctors, she tided over her last few weeks of pregnancy, despite a severe COVID-19 infection and delivered two healthy baby girls who tested negative for the coronavirus.

In June 2021, Filipina expatriate Mariecen Nituma Agillon, a sales executive working for a local retail chain, pregnant for the first time and carrying twins, contracted COVID-19. She was in her 31st week of gestation when she came to the Emergency Room of NMC Specialty Hospital, Al Nahda, Dubai. Her PCR test returned a positive result and by then, her symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath had got progressively worse.

She was admitted to the isolation ward on June 4 and treatment was initiated. Her husband, who worked as an office assistant before losing his job to the pandemic, had also tested positive around the same time and was admitted to a quarantine centre under Dubai Health Authority.

Severe pneumonia

At the time of admission, doctors had to maintain a steady supply of oxygen to maintain the woman’s blood oxygen levels. Her blood tests indicated high infection and inflammation. A chest X-ray was done to determine her lung damage, which in itself was a critical procedure, given that the X-ray had to be carried out bearing in mind the safety of the babies in her womb. The X-ray report revealed large patches of pneumonia in both the lungs.

Elaborating on Agillon’s complications, Dr Rakesh Sankar, specialist physician and head of the department at the hospital, said: “Pregnancy while being COVID-19 positive can lead to complications — more so in this case since this was a preterm pregnancy with twins. In addition to COVID-19, pneumonia and ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome), the patient had other complications as well, such as severe anaemia requiring blood transfusion, bacterial pneumonia with sepsis and a high heart rate (150-160bpm).

Dr Rakesh Sankar

"Our team was constantly working and improvising to keep the mother and the babies safe.”

"Our team was constantly working and improvising to keep the mother and the babies safe.”

Premature labour

Agillon was managed by a team of specialists from the departments of Internal Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Intensive Care. After spending two days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and a total of nine days in hospital, she was finally discharged after obtaining a negative PCR test. However, within two days, she returned in premature labour and her COVID test was positive again.

High-risk pregnancy

Dr Praveena Saraf, specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist at the hospital, said: “Twin pregnancy, in general, is considered high risk and can lead to preterm delivery.

Dr Praveena Saraf

"While Mariecen was weighing just around 50kg, the COVID-19 infection had increased her risk of a preterm delivery.”

Dr Saraf carried out an emergency Caesarean-section on June 13, and two healthy preterm baby girls were born, weighing 1.4kg and 1.6kg. Both the babies tested negative for COVID-19.

The hospital staff not only managed the patient and her newborns in the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), but extended emotional support to the young mother. Throughout her hospital stay and delivery, Agillon was alone in the hospital, as her husband was in quarantine. The premature babies were finally discharged after two weeks.

Prayers answered

Agillon was overjoyed to be able to hold her little ones in her arms — finally — and expressed her happiness and gratitude. “During these difficult times, a positive experience and outcome were achieved by the doctors. My husband and I could only pray — and God answered our prayers.”

Michael Brenden Davis, CEO of NMC Healthcare, said: “We are very happy for Mariecen and her family. The safe delivery of the twins proves that life can go on with proper medical care despite the pandemic. What is most encouraging is the fact that her twins remained COVID-19 negative. I am grateful to our doctors and nurses who produce such miracles time and again.”

Breast milk, the elixir

Doctors the world over recommend that even if mothers are COVID-positive they must nurse their babies because breast milk contains a lot of antibodies. In the case of Agillon, the doctors made sure that her breast milk was given to the babies in the ICU.

Dr Karvendhan Ramasamy

Dr Karvendhan Ramasamy, specialist neonatologist at the hospital, said: “In spite of the mother being COVID-positive, her breast milk was given to the babies right from day one. It was safe for the newborns. Although the babies were premature, they remained COVID-negative.”