Winnipeg mother urges public to follow health orders after she and her newborn son contract COVID-19

A Winnipeg mother is urging the public to follow public health orders after she and her newborn baby tested positive for COVID-19.

Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais recently became a mother for the third time, giving birth to her son on April 14.

Nearly a week later, she went back to hospital because she was experiencing complications of hypertension, including a migraine stemming from high blood pressure.

Those health issues had occurred after past pregnancies, she said. But when hospital staff tested her for COVID-19, the results came back positive.

“This week we found out it’s the variant. I’m not sure which variant,” Robinson-Desjarlais, 41, told CBC News over the phone from her hospital bed in Health Sciences Centre.

“Our two-year-old son has it, and now my two-week-old son also has it, because I’m breastfeeding and skin-to-skin [contact]. So he’s one of only a few babies in Manitoba that has tested positive for this now.”

The family contracted COVID-19 after the daycare that Robinson-Desjarlais’s two-year-old attends, Splash Child Care on McGregor Street in the St. John’s area, reported a case of the illness, Robinson-Desjarlais said.

‘It’s just really sad and hard being a mother and not being able to be with my newborn because of this virus, and not be able to have that special time of breastfeeding and bonding together because of this virus, even though we were careful,’ says Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais, seen here holding her newborn son. (Submitted by Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais)

The daycare was notified of the positive case on April 12. The centre informed public health officials and a nurse was assigned to do contact tracing, executive director Lesley Massey said in an email to CBC News.

The daycare closed its infant room on April 13, then shut down the entire facility on April 15 because of “the number of cases reporting positive,” Massey said.

Public health officials told anyone deemed at risk how long to self-isolate. Each educator at the daycare had to be tested, isolate, then retest before returning to work, Massey said.

The daycare aims to reopen some time next week after sanitizing the facility, Massey said.

Robinson-Desjarlais’s husband and her third child tested negative. But her father, former Manitoba NDP MLA Eric Robinson, tested positive.

He contracted the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 while caring for the other two children as the new baby was born, Robinson-Desjarlais said.

Robinson-Desjarlais had to get a major surgery when she was just 17 weeks pregnant. Then, two weeks after being born, her baby boy tested positive for COVID-19.

“He’s had a pretty rough go from the beginning,” Robinson-Desjarlais said, but he’s doing OK.

Her two-year-old is as well. He was less symptomatic, mainly feeling lethargic with a runny nose, and should be on the mend, she said.

“He’s a pretty resilient guy.”

Robinson-Desjarlais, meanwhile, is lying in the COVID ward at HSC.

On Tuesday, she had woken up from a nap and was having trouble breathing. Robinson-Desjarlais used her puffers, but they had no effect.

“It was really a scary feeling. I’ve never felt anything like it before,” she said. “It was like I was drowning in my lungs, like somebody was sitting on my chest.”

Robinson-Desjarlais’ new baby and two-year-old are doing well, despite the COVID-19 diagnosis, she says. (Submitted by Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais)

Robinson-Desjarlais’ husband called an ambulance. Her oxygen levels were really low, paramedics told her, and she had to go the hospital.

Robinson-Desjarlais didn’t have time to pack a bag or finish breastfeeding her baby, she said.

X-rays taken at the hospital revealed she’s suffering pneumonia caused by COVID-19. There also isn’t enough oxygen in her blood, so she’s on steroids and oxygen to keep her blood flow healthy, she said.

On Wednesday, Robinson-Desjarlais still had a headache, her chest was tight and she had difficulty breathing and talking. A fever and chills have subsided, she said.

Throughout the pandemic, Robinson-Desjarlais and her family have been incredibly careful when it comes to following COVID-19 protocols, she said.

Her message to other Manitobans is to take the illness and public health rules seriously.

“It’s just really sad and hard being a mother and not being able to be with my newborn because of this virus, and not be able to have that special time of breastfeeding and bonding together because of this virus, even though we were careful,” she said, fighting through tears.

“I felt like I was going to die. I’m not an elder. I don’t suffer from autoimmune issues. I’m just a normal mom and I could have died yesterday. People need to realize that that’s my reality — and that’s the reality of many people out there — and need to stop arguing something that is clearly happening in front of their faces.”

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