COVID-19 Strikes Newlywed Days After Wedding With Devastating Complications

Northwestern Medicine
COVID-19 February 10, 2022
Newlywed Carlie Hamburg of Dixon, Illinois, is eager to finally enjoy married life after four months in the hospital fighting serious complications from COVID-19. The 21-year-old contracted COVID-19 a week after her wedding on September 18, 2021. Following lifesaving treatment at three Northwestern Medicine hospitals, Hamburg returned home to her husband Brandon on January 28, 2022.

When Hamburg first felt ill, she figured she would shake it off in a few days. But within a week, she was admitted to Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb, Illinois, with dangerously low oxygen levels. Her mother Tracy Elder, who is a nurse at Kishwaukee Hospital, made the difficult decision to put her on a ventilator.

“I felt so helpless,” said Elder. “If I could have switched positions with Carlie, I would have done it in an instant. We didn’t want to put her on a ventilator, but her oxygen levels were down to 50%. I knew we had to in order to save her life.”

Hamburg did not respond well to COVID-19 treatments, so her care team decided to transfer her to Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois, for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). The ECMO machine pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside of the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest.

“Carlie was so ill when I met her. She had to lay prone on very high ventilator settings to oxygenate her blood, and the high settings were in and of themselves dangerous for her lungs,” said Jonathan Tomasko, MD, cardiac surgeon at Central DuPage Hospital. “I put her on ECMO within an hour of when I first met her, and when we did it, we had to have everything ready to go, because she was so tenuous.”

With the ECMO oxygenating Hamburg’s blood, Dr. Tomasko was able to take her off the ventilator, making it possible for her to speak to the staff and her family. However, she experienced numerous clotting problems and internal bleeding related to the COVID-19 infection. She required multiple endoscopies and an embolization to control the bleeding.

“It was really traumatic. I was having vivid nightmares and was very scared,” said Hamburg. “The nurses were incredible, holding my hand and soothing me. We’ve become very close and plan to stay in touch. ”

As Dr. Tomasko slowly weaned the ECMO settings, Hamburg’s care team motivated and cheered her on. By early November, they were helping her take her first tentative steps with a walker and lots of support. She slowly progressed, and by Christmas Day, the ECMO machine was removed.

“She had a very rocky course as COVID-19 took its toll on her body. We thankfully have a terrific team to help her through her illness, and she was a tremendous fighter,” said Dr. Tomasko. “She was with us for several months as we got to know her and her family very well. She has a great spirit and a great family support system. I know she will do well.”

After months in the hospital, Hamburg was still very weak and dependent on supplemental oxygen. In early January 2022, Hamburg was transferred to Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, part of Northwestern Medicine, in Wheaton, Illinois. There, she had a new care team to help her build strength, endurance and independence.

“When Carlie arrived at Marianjoy, she was unable to stand or walk on her own. She worked hard with our neuromuscular rehab team and did so well we were able to send her home a week before her projected discharge date,” said Satheesh Muppavarapu, MD, physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital. “We are proud of her and wishing her the very best.”

Hamburg will continue rehabilitation at home and hopes to soon return to her busy life co-managing B-HAM Signs & Designs with her husband, creating her own custom designed cups and working at a retail store.

“I’m so eager to just get back to life,” said Hamburg. “I missed by nephew’s first birthday, my family Christmas and the joys of being a newlywed. I still have more healing to do, but now I can be at home with people I love.”
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