Pregnant with COVID, California woman survived a nightmare

Amy Yamaguchi met her daughter when the baby was five months old.


That’s because at the time of the C-section birth, Yamaguchi was in a coma and suffering from COVID-19.

And that is only part of the story.


The Seal Beach resident will soon become the first COVID-19 patient at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to undergo a double lung transplant. She was one of the hospital’s first COVID patients to be put on a life support machine that is often described as a “Hail Mary” by experts.

Danny Levine with Seal Beach’s wife, Amy Yamaguchi, and daughter, Maran, 1, Seal Beach, on January 5, 2022. In December 2020, Yamaguchi was 36 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with COVID-19 and Maran was delivered by C-section, although she would not meet him for the next five months. (Photo by Mark Wrightmeier, Orange County Register / SCNG)

Yamaguchi suffered a series of mini-strokes. And he had to learn to walk. At one point, his feet were put into the cast so that he could push flat against the ground again.


In August, after nearly eight months in hospitals and a rehab center, Yamaguchi went home.

Since then, every week has brought a new milestone. And as she settles into life with husband Danny Levine and their daughter, Maran Marie, Yamaguchi develops a strong appreciation for things that can easily be taken for granted.

“Just being home is a pleasure. Just sitting at the table with the family,” she said. “Now, we have an extra member. Nice to be a mom.”


“We’re back to what life should be.”

When COVID-19 Hits

On December 1, 2020, the day she tested positive for COVID-19, Yamaguchi was approximately 36 weeks pregnant. She and her husband were careful to wear face masks and follow safety measures, but by that time there was no vaccine and the pandemic would turn into a deadly cold.

For several days, Levine monitored Yamaguchi, tracking his increasingly severe symptoms. When her oxygen level became dangerously low, he took her to the Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley.


Due to the health protocols in effect at the time, Levine and Yamaguchi could not go face-to-face. Two days after she was admitted, before her emergency delivery, they texted and chatted in her cell.

“We were telling each other that we loved each other and that we would soon see each other with the whole family,” Levine said.

Then… silence.

“That was the last time I spoke with Amy until February.”

The C-section delivery gave birth to a healthy baby boy – and marked the beginning of Yamaguchi’s coma.

Doctors thought the surgery would help Yamaguchi recover faster by freeing up space for his lungs. It didn’t. Soon, Maran is sent home with his father and Yamaguchi is taken to Cedars-Sinai.

The future looked potentially dark.

“Who is this boy?”

In mid-January, while on life support at Cedars-Sinai, Yamaguchi began to emerge from his coma.

He was strapped to a hospital bed that could be made vertical to help him regain his strength. Although she was still on the ventilator, she managed to get around it. Food was given through a tube, first through his nose and later through his stomach.

In March, with the help of a favorite nurse, Yamaguchi arranged for her husband to receive an anniversary gift from the hospital gift shop. It was a T-shirt, emblazoned with the name of the hospital, made of cotton, the traditional material for the third anniversary.

“She’s fighting for her life, on life support, and she still gives me an anniversary gift,” Levine says.

Even when Yamaguchi’s “sassy personality” was coming back, the physical problems persisted. For one, a blood clot formed in his arm. And his lungs were still not working.

Doctors put her on a machine called ECMO, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, which pumps a patient’s blood out of their body and back in through an artificial lung.

At that time, the duration of her treatment was scarce for the hospital’s COVID patients. Patients placed on ECMO are usually treated for a few weeks at most; Yamaguchi was in ECMO for 119 days.

Still, his lungs didn’t improve.

Dominic Emerson, his lead physician at Cedars-Sinai, described his lungs as fibrotic, meaning he was unable to expand the way a normal lung would.

“A normal lung should feel like a marshmallow. These used to feel like a piece of shoe leather,” said Emerson, associate surgical director of heart transplant and mechanical circulatory support at the Schmidt Heart Institute.

In April, Yamaguchi became the first COVID patient in the hospital to undergo a lung transplant. Nationally, Emerson said, more than 200 COVID patients have received lung transplants.

Why COVID hit Yamaguchi so hard is unknown.

“She was a completely healthy, normal, 35-year-old active woman,” Emerson said. “That’s why it’s important for people to get vaccinated. You might think that because you’re young you’ll be safe. But, unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of people who are young and get really sick and die from Covid.” went. “

Yamaguchi’s pregnancy may have been a factor, “but we don’t know,” Emerson said. According to the Centers for Disease Control, pregnant women “Those who are not pregnant are more likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19 than those who are not.”

Doctors described her recovery as remarkable, a testament to the powers of technology and the ways health technology is being used to evolve to save lives during the pandemic.

OCR L AMYCOVID 01.mr
Danny Levine with his wife, Amy Yamaguchi, and daughter, Maran, 1, Seal Beach, on January 5, 2022. In December 2020, Yamaguchi was 36 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with COVID-19 and Maran was delivered by C-section. However, she will not meet him for the next five months. (Photo by Mark Wrightmeier, Orange County Register / SCNG)

During transplant surgery, Yamaguchi suffered a mini-stroke. In turn, this affected his memory.

When she got out of surgery, Yamaguchi said she asked her mother a question:

“Who is it that hangs around with the nurses?” She said, ‘Amy, he’s your husband.'”

“I said, ‘Am I married?'”

Then her mother asked her daughter if she knew her age. Yamaguchi, 35, at the time said she was 22.

“I was a little off.”

Yamaguchi soon finds out that he is not only married, but that he has a child as well.

Still, while some memories came back, others did not.

“I don’t remember Maran being pregnant,” Yamaguchi said. “Some things are getting better, as I watch videos and pictures, but I can’t remember the abs.”

meeting her baby

After April’s surgery, Yamaguchi dropped out of ECMO. But she remained on a ventilator, which was still needed to pump oxygen throughout her body.

He slowly improved over the next two months.

Even the smallest things became mini-celebrations.

“She reached up and scratched her nose, and she did so without hesitation,” Levine said. “I remember being so happy about it.”

Yamaguchi first saw Maran in May, a few days before Mother’s Day.

Yamaguchi was in a wheelchair in the hospital plaza, and was still using an oxygen tank and a ventilator.

And she was terrified. She had missed the early mother-child relationship. She worried about how her daughter would react.

“I felt like I was going on a date. Is she going to like me?”

“But then I met him and everything went well,” Yamaguchi said. “It sounds awkward, but it was like love at first sight.”

After that Sunday became Baby Day for Yamaguchi. The rest of the week was filled with therapy – physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy. But Sunday was set aside for “Maren therapy”.

“It was the best therapy,” Yamaguchi said.

On June 1, doctors removed the tube from his trachea that had helped him breathe. Later that month, she was transferred to a rehabilitation center, where she walked for the first time since a coma: eight steps on day one.

On August 3, Yamaguchi went home.

OCR L AMYCOVID 03.mr
Danny Levine with Seal Beach’s wife, Amy Yamaguchi, and daughter, Maran, 1, Seal Beach, on January 5, 2022. In December 2020, Yamaguchi was 36 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with COVID-19 and Maran was delivered by C-section, although she would not meet him for the next five months. (Photo by Mark Wrightmeier, Orange County Register / SCNG)

Since then she has continued therapy and continues to make progress. She went from using a walker and a wheelchair to walking on her own with a cane. It was a big deal to choose Maran in himself.

Wednesday, January 5, marked another milestone: “Today was the first day I took her out of her crib and turned her in.”

“I’m doing well,” she said. “Making big improvements.”

The couple move back and forth between their home in Seal Beach and their parents’ house in Garden Grove. Levine, 35, works online as a teacher at a charter school. And Yamaguchi, a former customer service representative for Hemophilia Treatment Centers, is focusing her energies on her health and being a mom.

Aware of the fast, easy spread of the Omicron version, the couple rarely freaks out. And when they do they wear face masks. Both are vaccinated.

“We haven’t really gone anywhere,” Yamaguchi said. Instead, she is spending time with her daughter and family.

“I have to give myself the grace and forgiveness that life didn’t go according to our plan. Now, I have a lot of time with her.”

Last month, the couple celebrated Maran’s first birthday. The party was very small. The theme was Alice in Wonderland.