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Auburn nursing aide and new mother, 24, on life support due to COVID-19
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HEALTH

Auburn nursing aide and new mother, 24, on life support due to COVID-19

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Kaylee Gabak tested positive for COVID-19 on Christmas. The next day, she gave birth to a new life. But now, the 24-year-old Auburn nursing aide is fighting for hers.

Gabak has been intubated at Upstate University Hospital since Dec. 30. After regular ventilation failed to improve her condition, she began receiving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

The treatment gives oxygen to Gabak's blood so her feeble lungs don't have to. Her fiancé, Cody Clink, said ECMO is "the most life support that they could possibly give" in an interview with The Citizen.

"She's backed into a corner as far as she can be," he said. "But they say she's getting better every day, and she's still stable. Upstate has been the best. We couldn't give them any better praise."

Gabak is a certified nursing assistant at The Commons on St. Anthony in Auburn, where she worked her last shift before maternity leave on Dec. 16.

Prior to leaving, she was pulled aside by her supervisor and told that the last resident she put to bed that night had just tested positive for the virus, said her mother, Cortney Haberlau, in an interview with The Citizen. More than 100 Commons residents have tested positive, and 10 have passed away, since a COVID-19 outbreak began at the Auburn nursing facility last month.

After carefully removing her scrubs and sanitizing, Gabak thought she dodged a bullet, her mother said. But a week later, Gabak threw up her dinner. Then she had leg pain. Her doctor thought both were symptoms of her pregnancy, but when she went into labor at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 25 at Auburn Community Hospital, a rapid test confirmed she had COVID-19. A chest X-ray showed she had pneumonia.

Gabak was in labor for about 21 hours, two of which she spent pushing. The next afternoon, she gave birth to a healthy 7-pound, 10-ounce and 21-inch baby girl. Charlotte Joelee Clink is her and Cody's first child together. Due to the hospital's visitation policy during COVID-19, they were the only family allowed in the room to welcome her. Cody and Charlotte have since tested negative for the virus.

Charlotte is perfectly healthy, he said, and gives him and her grandmother no problems. They think that's because she knows what's going on with her mother, they joked. 

Gabak went home Monday, Dec. 28. But the next day, breathing became so difficult that she returned to the hospital. On Wednesday, she was intubated and transported to Upstate.

Haberlau was texting and talking with her daughter that morning, so her sudden downturn in the afternoon took her by surprise. While intubated, Gabak is medically paralyzed to reduce the amount of oxygen she needs. Still, her mother arranges with hospital staff to FaceTime with her, and Cody is finding his fiancee's favorite books so Haberlau can read them to her during her treatment.

"The nurses probably think I'm crazy," she said. "But I believe she can hear us." 

Since Gabak began ECMO on Sunday, the updates have been fewer. The treatment is doing its job, Haberlau said, and doctors believe Gabak's young age will allow it to finish that job sooner than later. 

In the meantime, friends of the family have launched a GoFundMe to support them. Along with the costs of having a baby and treating Gabak for COVID-19, neither she nor Clink are working, as he's caring for their newborn daughter for the foreseeable future. The campaign has raised more than $15,000 of its $20,000 goal from 242 donors in under 24 hours.

The family is overwhelmed by the support, Haberlau said, and grateful for it. Clink added that he's heartened by the churches praying for his family and the strangers leaving gifts on his doorstep.

At the same time, Haberlau isn't entirely surprised by the support. Her daughter has always been selfless, she said, having worked at Unity House of Cayuga County, Mozaic and other local service organizations before becoming a certified nursing assistant. And whether or not that service is being paid back, Haberlau said her family plans on paying it forward.

"People need to watch out for each other," she said. "If Kaylee's story can help even one person, it's worth it."

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and auburnpub.com since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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