▶ Watch Video: CDC strongly recommends COVID vaccine during pregnancy, new research shows no risk of miscarriage

A 30-year-old Florida woman battling COVID-19 died on August 6, just days after undergoing an emergency C-section weeks before her due date. She was only able to hold her newborn “for a few short minutes” before being rushed to the ICU and soon after put on a ventilator, her family said. 

Kristen McMullen had started to develop symptoms of COVID-19 roughly three weeks before her due date, her family said. She was soon in the hospital with COVID pneumonia — a common complication from the virus. She was initially sent home after four days with antibiotics, but in less than 48 hours she returned to the hospital with breathing problems. 

Doctors soon performed an emergency C-section to deliver McMullen’s baby. Her family says she was able to hold her daughter, Summer, for just “a few short minutes before she was rushed off to the ICU.” 

“She held her for a brief moment. There’s two pictures of her holding Summer, then she had to go to the ICU because she had complications with breathing,” McMullen’s aunt, Melissa Syverson, told CBS Orlando affiliate WKMG

McMullen was placed on oxygen and a CPAP machine and was only able to see her newborn through FaceTime a couple of times before her condition worsened and she had to be put on a ventilator.

Kristen McMullen FacetTmes with her newborn daughter, Summer, from the ICU soon after undergoing an emergency C-section. 

Melissa Syverson/GoFundMe

“How do you write an update to something that i[s] unimaginable?” Syverson wrote on GoFundMe following her death on August 6. “I was hoping I would wake up and the nightmare would be over.”

She described McMullen as a “bright, beautiful, vivacious girl with the world ahead of her. … She lit up the room wherever she was, her laughter was contagious and she will be truly missed every day until we all take our last breath.” 

McMullen’s brother, Brandon Faolán Vipperman, wrote on Facebook that his sister “fought hard” against COVID and that she was “full of life.” 

“I wish it didn’t happen, I wish I could change the outcome,” he wrote. “It hurts, makes me angry and saddens me deeply.” He urged mothers-to-be to “understand the dangers of Covid-19.” 

Pregnant people are at a higher risk of having a severe illness from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and are more likely to have a pre-term birth or other adverse pregnancy outcomes. 

Dr. Lori Boardman, the chief quality officer at Orlando Health’s Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, told WKMG that her hospital is seeing more pregnant patients with severe cases of COVID-19 as the Delta variant surges through the state. 

“They definitely have pneumonia and are requiring oxygen,” she said. “If the baby doesn’t look good because sometimes the heart rates will slow, we’re having to deliver babies before they’re supposed to be born.”

On Wednesday, less than a week after McMullen’s death, the CDC strengthened its guidance to recommend all pregnant people get vaccinated against the virus. The agency cited new safety data, saying that “scientists did not find an increased risk for miscarriage” among women who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

McMullen’s family has not shared whether or not she was vaccinated, but have urged that others get the vaccine.