Tears still come too easily for her and husband Dan when they think about those fraught months when both she and her newborn baby nearly died.
“It’s like reliving a nightmare,” she said.
It’s a story the Albion mother is willing to share so everyone knows how grateful she is for their assistance in keeping her family going as she battled COVID-19 and the complications that followed.
There are so many who helped, the Preisters say, and they are humbled by the support:
The nurses and doctors at Methodist Hospital who spoiled Tiffany with her favorite coffee and extra visits, and the therapists at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital who helped her relearn how to talk, walk and become herself again. They became family.
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Dan’s employer, AKRS Equipment Solutions, which stood behind him while he was making the two-hour trips to and from Omaha five times a week to be with Tiffany and baby Elijah, who were at different hospitals.
Their families, there for emotional and financial support, as well as caring for the couple’s other three children. Relatives in Omaha were the only ones there to love Elijah for the first weeks of his life because both mom and dad had the virus.
Many strangers — like the motorcycle club in Newman Grove — donated money. There was a wear-jeans-for-a-day event at St. Michael’s school that raised more than $1,000, and GoFundMes by friends and family. People are still helping, even as life seems to be returning to normal at last.
“A woman at work today brought me a check,” Dan said. “She said, ‘Here’s some gas money for doctor appointments.’ It’s kind of unreal.”
Tiffany, 39, had been waiting to reach her 30th week of pregnancy before getting a COVID-19 vaccine when she and some of her family decided to eat out after a doctor’s appointment in Omaha last November.
Soon, she started feeling congested and her oxygen levels began falling. It was the dreaded virus.
A rescue squad took her to Omaha, where a BiPAP breathing machine no longer was enough and doctors wanted to intubate her and take the baby at 28 weeks.
“I was terrified. I had read so many stories about pregnant women not waking up. I reluctantly said OK,” she said. “They would not let me have a C-section and see my baby first. I didn’t get to see him until Dec. 31.”
Tiffany was intubated and paralyzed for 22 days. She was on a ventilator with a tracheostomy tube for 14 more days. She woke up then, but couldn’t talk and didn’t know where she was. When she improved, she was scared to go to Madonna for rehabilitation, thinking she would never leave the hospital.
Drug-induced dreams had her convinced that she had more kids that died in a car crash and that Elijah was the only one of three babies — she thought she’d had triplets — to survive.
“They were earth-shattering for a long time,” Tiffany said. “Those have faded and allowed me to heal. I feel like I’m back to myself and not living in the COVID world.”
Dan, meanwhile, made that lonely drive back and forth from Albion to Omaha for about two months.
He was always wondering if somebody was going to die, he said.
“I was wondering at the beginning would Tiffany make it and Googling chances of the baby surviving,” he said. “Wondering how everything would work afterward if Tiffany didn’t make it. Trying to get the kids taken care of at home. My parents being so close and my siblings really helped.”
Tiffany finally came home at the end of January and Elijah followed her in February. She didn’t think she was ready, but caring for her family, Tiffany said, became the best medicine.
Then in March, Elijah got a bad cold. It quickly became more serious because his lungs were still developing, and he had to be life-flighted to Children’s Hospital in Omaha.
“His heart stopped beating,” Tiffany said. “We spent 40 days in the hospital with him.”
That was the hardest part, she said. But 8-month-old Elijah is doing well now. Although Tiffany still gets winded easily, her lungs are clear.
Her anxiety hasn’t gone away. She worries about taking her kids out in public since the youngest aren’t vaccinated. She frets about whether to send 5-year-old Everest to school or teach him at home.
“I want to take my kids and start making memories so they can remember stuff we do together. But if we go there is somebody going to get sick?” Tiffany asked. “I think about if I do die. I could be gone tomorrow. I want to make the best of everything. I want pictures of us doing stuff. I want them to have memories of us.”
Dan calls the six months when things were at their worst the “longest year of his life.” Tiffany isn’t sure why she and Elijah were spared, knowing other mothers with the virus and their babies didn’t make it.
They can only agree that it was a miracle. And they are grateful.
“I thank God every day,” Tiffany said.
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