Jennifer Rosebluff-Thomas is being remembered by her sister as a beautiful, vibrant woman who lived for her children until she died of COVID-19 in an Edmonton ICU in early September.
“Her kids — that was her world,” said her older sister, Carol Charles. “That’s what made her smile every day. That’s who she got up for. That’s who she lived for, was the kids.”
Rosebluff-Thomas, 35, was from Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation, just northeast of Regina, and lived in Edmonton with her eight children, ages one, five, six, eight, 12, 16, 17, 19. She was 29 weeks pregnant with her ninth child when she contracted the delta variant of the coronavirus in late August.
She wasn’t vaccinated.
Pregnant women who get COVID-19 are five times more likely to require hospitalization than the average person, and 10 times more likely to need intensive care, according to data compiled by the Canadian Surveillance of COVID-19 in Pregnancy team.
Public health authorities all over the world say COVID-19 vaccines reduce those risks.
Charles, who lives in Regina, shared a final video chat with her sister before she was put on life support inside Royal Alexandra Hospital.
“She told me, ‘Sister I’m dying. They’re taking me to the ICU,'” said Charles.
“In the last video chat I had with her, I just told her, ‘Don’t worry’ — I said — ‘I’m going to see the kids. I’ll be there, don’t worry.'” … And she was crying. I could tell she was scared.”
Then, said Charles, a nurse called her to say the medical team would need to do an emergency caesarean section.
“When they were doing the emergency C-section, the nurse called me and told me they were doing it to save her so she could get oxygen into her lungs,” she recalled.
Rosebluff-Thomas never regained consciousness and never had the chance to hold her newborn daughter.
She died four days later on Sept. 3.
Dr. Stephanie Cooper, a high-risk obstetrician at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, said more than 20 pregnant women with serious and critical COVID-19 were admitted to hospital in Alberta in August and September. All of them were unvaccinated.
Cooper did not treat Rosebluff-Thomas. She said medical teams are generally trying to keep fetuses inside the womb as long as possible to buy more time for maturity, but that emergency premature deliveries have been necessary to save the life of the baby or mother, or both.
One scenario is when a pregnant woman is so critically sick from COVID-19 that her blood must be oxygenated outside her body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest.
“If we’re thinking a pregnant woman has to have that treatment, or even if we think potentially a pregnant woman is not going to make it, then we decide that we should deliver the baby — even if it is very premature — because we are very concerned that both the baby and the mom may not make it,” Cooper said.
Her sister encouraged her to get the vaccine
A GoFundMe set up to support Rosebluff-Thomas’s children states: “All she wanted to do was get better so she could go home to her children, but unfortunately she didn’t recover. Jennifer was a beautiful person, with a beautiful soul. She loved all her children and did her best to give them everything and more.”
Charles is 15 years older than her sister and has acted as her protector her entire life.
She urged her sister to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Now, she’s both grief stricken by her sister’s death and devastated to learn her death was “preventable.”
“The sad thing is, my sister wasn’t vaccinated,” Charles said. “This was something we had discussed in the spring when vaccinations became available, because of her large family and the children she already had at home being school-aged. I was just like: ‘You need to go get vaccinated.'”
Now, Charles said, she is sharing her sister’s story to encourage other pregnant women who may be hesitant to get the vaccine to reach out to medical professionals.
“COVID is real. My sister was an amazing mother, and now, her children will grow up without a mother,” she said.
Charles is caring for five of Rosebluff-Thomas’s children in Saskatchewan.
She says she will always remember her sister’s kindness, compassion, and love of family.
“She was generous even if she didn’t have much to give,” she said.
“She was a very beautiful person. The best smile ever.”