Mom reunites with newborn after 85-day hospital stay to overcome COVID-19

The 32-year-old embraces motherhood at home with her baby after being discharged from Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center.

Mom reunites with newborn after 85-days hospital stay to overcome COVID-19

Orlando, Fla. (October 29, 2021) – At a near full term pregnancy, Paola Gambini, began her 85-day hospital stay when difficulty breathing from COVID-19 led to an emergency C-section. The newborn was delivered at Orlando Health Winne Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. Due to the severity of her condition, Paola was soon transferred to Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center for the duration of her care. The 32-year-old mom is now reunited at home with her baby and family.

Day one of Paola’s health battle was July 29 when her fiancé Michael Hazen called 911. The very next day, July 30, the couple’s baby girl Lilliana was born — sharing the same birthday with her dad.

“She was the best birthday present ever,” said Michael, in reflecting over the months-long time at the hospital.

From there, Paola slowly progressed through an extensive medical journey to make it to a path of recovery, and was discharged on October 22.

During the three months at Orlando Health ORMC, her medical treatment included ventilator support, proning, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), and rehabilitation. In addition to Paola’s medical care, the multidisciplinary medical team of doctors, respiratory therapists, nurses, and other health care professionals found different ways to offer support to the mom who hadn’t seen her baby since the brief moments following the delivery.

“I remember seeing her and touching her after she was born,” said Paola.

While many moments since that time were a blur, the team helped create a new memory on September 3 —Paola’s birthday. A special visit was arranged by her medical team, as Paola was undergoing ECMO treatment. 

“For people who have critical cardiac and pulmonary problems, ECMO takes the blood out of the body with a pump and puts it into an oxygenator which provides oxygen and removes carbon dioxide,” said Charles Hunley, MD, medical director, Critical Care Medicine at Orlando Health ORMC. “The blood is then put back in the body to supply the oxygen needed to support the heart or lungs.”  

Used in response to some critical care needs, ECMO technology allows the blood to "bypass" the heart and lungs, allowing the organs to rest and heal.

Soon after the visit with the baby, Paola’s condition improved. She began talking, and her nursing and respiratory care team took her outside to enjoy fresh air. Moved to tears, Paola once thought she would not see outside again.

By the end of September, Paola no longer needed ECMO treatment and began physical therapy and other rehabilitation. She continued to progress from the medical patient care units to the inpatient rehabilitation unit.

Early October she began walking again, using a walker for support.

Then, on October 22 Paola was awarded a gold medal and literally crossed the finish line banner at Orlando Health ORMC’s Institute for Advanced Rehabilitation. The finish line celebration included cheers and hugs from hospital staff who took care of Paola.

Paola’s last day at the hospital was also filled with reflections from the couple and staff.

“There were rough patches,” said Paola. “There were times they told Michael I might not make it, and he was like, ‘She’s coming home.’ I did everything to have our baby. God brought me back to her.”

To help ensure mother-baby bonding throughout her time in the hospital Paola stayed connected with baby Lilliana through FaceTime and Michael covered the walls over her rooms with photos of the baby.  

“The baby is going to recognize mom’s face and voice just fine,” said Michael. “If we FaceTimed her now, the baby would probably answer.”

Paola looked forward to all the hugs and stares she would share with Lilliana.

“I think there will be a lot of staring,” said Paola. “Her looking at me, me looking at her. And her thinking Mommy’s not in a little square anymore.”

Paola will continue with outpatient rehabilitation as part of her recovery, but most importantly she will enjoy motherhood at home with her baby and family.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a baby and then become so ill you can’t breathe, you need ECMO, and you are sedated in the hospital for a long time, and you basically have to regain your strength,” said Kalei Walker, MD, MHS, cardiovascular surgeon, Orlando Health Heart & Vascular Institute. “But I imagine going home is very exciting and I think it is certainly something worth fighting for.”   


About Orlando Health

Orlando Health, headquartered in Orlando, Florida, is a not-for-profit healthcare organization with $7.6 billion of assets under management that serves the southeastern United States.

Founded more than 100 years ago, the healthcare system is recognized around the world for its pediatric and adult Level One Trauma program as well as the only state-accredited Level Two Adult Trauma Center in the St. Petersburg region. It is the home of the nation’s largest neonatal intensive care unit under one roof, the only system in the southeast to offer open fetal surgery to repair the most severe forms of spina bifida, the site of an Olympic athlete training facility and operator of one of the largest and highest performing clinically integrated networks in the region. Orlando Health is a statutory teaching system that pioneers life-changing medical research. The 3,200-bed system includes 15 wholly-owned hospitals and emergency departments; rehabilitation services, cancer and heart institutes, imaging and laboratory services, wound care centers, physician offices for adults and pediatrics, skilled nursing facilities, an in-patient behavioral health facility, home healthcare services in partnership with LHC Group, and urgent care centers in partnership with CareSpot Urgent Care. Nearly 4,200 physicians, representing more than 80 medical specialties and subspecialties have privileges across the Orlando Health system, which employs nearly 22,000 team members. In FY20, Orlando Health served nearly 150,000 inpatients and nearly 3.1 million outpatients. During that same time period, Orlando Health provided approximately $760 million in total value to the communities it serves in the form of charity care, community benefit programs and services, community building activities and more. Additional information can be found at, or follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @orlandohealth.

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