Weakened and hospitalized with COVID-19, Kristen McMullen of West Melbourne, Florida, gave birth to her tiny daughter, Summer Reign, via emergency C-section on July 27.
She could only cradle her newborn for a few fleeting moments.
“She was able to hold Summer for basically just two pictures,” said Melissa Syverson, McMullen’s aunt.
“One she had the mask on, and one she took the mask off. They took the quick pictures, she put the mask back on – and then they moved Kristen to ICU immediately after that,” she said.
“A 30-year-old bright, beautiful, vivacious girl with the world ahead of her,” McMullen died of COVID-19 on Friday in the Florida city, Syverson said.
McMullen’s death comes amid a record-breaking surge of COVID-19 cases across the state Monday afternoon, officials in Brevard County warned that all three local hospital systems are over capacity and “emergency rooms are inundated with patients with symptoms of COVID-19.”
“We’re seeing people of all age ranges being affected. This is not just people dying who are old and elderly anymore,” said Dr. Adam Fier, president of the Brevard County Medical Society.
“We’re seeing young people and old people alike being affected – including people dying,” said Fier.
McMullen grew up in Virginia and moved to Florida a few years ago, Syverson said. Shortly afterward, she met her future husband, Keith, and they married in April 2018.
Syverson said her niece developed COVID-19 symptoms about three weeks before her due date, and she was hospitalized July 21 with coronavirus-related pneumonia.
After Summer’s birth, McMullen communicated with relatives via FaceTime from the ICU.
“She couldn’t interact. But at least she could see Summer while she was being cared for, and just look at her. And then her breathing just progressively got worse,” Syverson said.
By Aug. 3, doctors put McMullen on a CPAP machine, which uses a breathing mask to deliver oxygen.
“We would get random texts from Kristen saying that things weren’t good, and she loved us. She had a few phone calls, but literally she only had enough strength just to say, ‘I love you,’ to Keith and Summer,” Syverson said.
Syverson said McMullen was placed on a ventilator on Aug. 6, and she died later that day.
“She was an amazing person, and very bubbly. Loved her family,” said Syverson, who lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
“She was the person that would walk in the door with game boards in her hand and want everybody to sit down and play games for hours together, and just laugh and have a good time. And she loved animals,” Syverson said.
Syverson set up a GoFundMe fundraiser to defray McMullen’s family’s financial burden.
Pregnant women are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19 than non-pregnant people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Syverson declined to discuss McMullen’s vaccination status, but she said she had no preexisting medical conditions and was an active, hard worker.
“We’re trying to make others aware that if you are pregnant or if you see a pregnant person, and whether you want to wear a mask or not wear a mask, be more aware that these people are really susceptible to COVID and COVID pneumonia,” Syverson said.
“Summer’s doing great. She’s a perfect little baby. She had a little bit of jaundice in the beginning, but she’s perfectly fine now,” she said.
“She’s just amazing. And we’re just really thankful to God to allow Kristen to pass Summer on to us and leave her with us,” she said.
Rick Neale is the South Brevard Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or [email protected] Twitter: @RickNeale1