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Jen and Andre Laubach with their newborn twins Mitchell and Maksim in the NICU. Video by Troy Beaumont Hospital.

Detroit Free Press

The twins were coming.

Jennifer Laubach was battling COVID-19 symptoms the day her water broke. So was her husband, who raced upstairs to pack his wife’s hospital bag, worried as she wasn’t due for another eight weeks.

But when he returned with the bag, the virus took over.

Andre Laubach was overcome by a violent cough, gasped for air and couldn’t speak, so his wife headed to the hospital with him in the passenger seat. But while driving through their Clarkston neighborhood, they got a call from their doctor: The dad’s coronavirus test results were in. He tested positive. He couldn’t go to the hospital.

So Jennifer Laubach turned the car around.  

“When I dropped him back off at home, I was worried that I might not see him again,” Jennifer Laubach recalled. “I was afraid he was going to die in his sleep, and he was all by himself.”

As her husband got out of the car, she said, “I love you.”

He could only nod. 

(L to R) Twins Mitchell and Maksim Laubach inside the neo-natal intensive care unit at the Troy Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Michigan on Saturday, April 25, 2020. (Photo: Courtesy of Jen Laubach)

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The Laubachs are among 37,000 Michiganders who have been infected by the novel coronavirus that to date has afflicted more than 934,000 Americans and killed more than 53,000. More than 3,000 have died in our state. 

Their story, though, is one of survival. Andre Laubach, a 36-year-old attorney, overcame the virus that took over his lungs and caused him to miss out on the birth of his twin sons, Mitchell and Maksim, who were born eight weeks early on April 3. Mitchell weighed 3 pounds, his brother 4.

Neither baby has the virus.

On Saturday, after three weeks of being cared for by nurses and doctors, baby Mitchell finally came home. His brother Maksim, who is still fighting some lung issues, is due home in about three to five days.

The Laubachs are now sharing their story, they said, to clear up any misconceptions about how serious COVID-19 is. The virus caused the mom to go into early labor, they said, and nearly cost the father his life.

“I want everyone to know that they need to take this virus seriously,” said Jennifer Laubach, 36, a controller for a construction firm who gets frustrated by social media comments that claim COVID-19 isn’t a big deal. “I’m like ‘Oh my God. If you only knew. It’s not just a cold.’ “

Jen and Andre Laubach in their Clarkston home with one of their newborn twins, Mitchell James Laubach after leaving the Troy Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Michigan on Saturday, April 25, 2020. (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)

‘I was seeing stars’ 

After his wife drove off for the hospital, Andre Laubach slowly made his way back to the house and laid down. His mind raced.

“I thought, ‘I know I’m going to miss the birth of my children. But I’m on the brink of death,’ ” recalled Andre Laubach, who has asthma and struggled to breathe, gasping between vicious coughing fits.

He had been sick for nine days by then, battling a cough, fatigue and dizziness. His wife also had a nasty cough, along with shortness of breath and diarrhea. Neither had a fever, though they suspected coronavirus. His wife called their doctor on a Sunday night for prescriptions to get tested.

The following day he turned 36 years old. 

More: These are the 6 new possible symptoms of the coronavirus the CDC added to its list

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“I was sick and resting and she said, ‘Happy Birthday, I got you a Coronavirus test,’ “ he recalled.

The next morning, the couple got tested. By nightfall, they were in ER. Andre Laubach had been coughing for nearly two hours and couldn’t breathe. At McLaren Hospital, however, his oxygen levels were high and he had no fever. So they sent him home with asthma treatments.

More coughing fits followed, so badly that he vomited. One night he coughed for five hours straight and thought he tore his abdominal muscles. At about 7 a.m. he finally fell asleep.

Then four hours later, his wife woke him up.

“My water broke,” she told him.

Jennifer Laubach remained calm. She sat down to compose herself while her husband called Troy Beaumont Hospital, told them they were on their way, and that they might have COVID-19. 

He then raced upstairs and packed his wife’s hospital bag. But by the time he got back downstairs, he hit a wall. The coughing took over again.

“I got a violent cough. I was seeing stars,” he said. “I sat down in a chair and couldn’t talk. Jen said, ‘You ready to go? Can you drive?’ I knew it was a no, but I couldn’t tell her that. It was my responsibility to drive my wife to the hospital when she was in labor.”

But his wife saw through him.

“It was really heartbreaking. He looked at me. He couldn’t talk,” she recalled. “That look told me everything. It said, ‘I want to go but physically I can’t because I can’t breathe. I can’t talk.’ “

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After his wife arrived at the hospital, she called her husband and told him to call 911. 

An ambulance arrived at the house. EMT workers checked his oxygen levels and said they were good.

Jen Laubach holding Mitchell and her husband Andrew Laubach holding Maksim inside the neo-natal intensive care unit inside Troy Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Michigan on Friday, April 24, 2020. (Photo: Courtesy of Troy Beaumont)

“They said, ‘you’re not the best candidate for a bed, that there are other people that need a bed more than you.’ ” the husband recalled. “So they left.”

That night, Andre Laubach left his front door unlocked, worried he might not be able to get to the door. 

“It was the virus, me, God and the cats. When the ambulance left, I had so much to live for at that point,” he recalled, thinking of his twins that were on the way.

But he was scared.

“I’m alone, with no doctors. My wife is at the hospital. It’s you versus the virus,” he recalled thinking to himself. “There were a couple of times it was touch and go. It was scary. … I knew that I was one push away from where it could take me out.”

But he made it through the night.

‘We are having babies’ 

It was a half hour drive to Beaumont Hospital in Troy. When Jennifer Laubach arrived, there was a lot of confusion.  

“They didn’t know what to do with me,” she said, noting the hospital knew that her husband was COVID-19 positive and presumed her to be positive, too.

Jennifer Laubach’s first test came back negative (her second test after giving birth came back positive) though the hospital was aware of her symptoms: coughing, shortness of breath and chills. So, upon arrival at the hospital, she sat in a wheelchair in the ER for a half hour while the staff looked for a room for her.

There was concern over her infecting other pregnant moms or newborns. So they looked for a special room. A nurse and doctor eventually examined her and told her that she hadn’t dilated yet.

After her exam, she was taken to a negative pressure room designated for COVID-19 patients. The doctors had hoped to keep her from going into labor for another two weeks.

“I prayed to God that night, ‘Please let me live through this,’ “ the mom recalled, noting she was worried about her husband at home.

She also thought about how difficult it was getting pregnant in the first place. She and her husband struggled. She had a low egg count and wound up getting fertility shots —it worked. She produced two eggs that were successfully fertilized in a Petri dish and then placed back in her body, and the twins would grow. They were their miracle babies. She had to get through this, she thought. And so did her husband.

At 5 a.m. the following morning, she had her first contraction. 

“We are having babies,” she texted her husband.

Although she labored alone, she recalled the kind hospital staff encouraging her, and a nurse named Onn who held her hand as she grimaced in pain. 

“She was my angel, my rock star,” she recalled of Onn.

Almost five hours after her first contraction, the twins arrived.

Mitchell was born at 9:41 a.m. Maksim at 9:51.

Jennifer didn’t get to hold the babies, who were whisked away by nurses to be cleaned and to avoid any contamination. 

“They held them up from me across the room. They were cute. I remember thinking how tiny they looked,” she said.

She then texted a photo of the babies to her husband. 

“It was both incredible and surreal,” Andre Laubach recalled. “It was great to see them and know that they’re OK. … They seemed healthy and Jen was in a good spirits at the same time.”

Andre Laubach said he still felt awful about missing their births. But he was very sick, and still had a ways to go to recover. So the photo of the babies meant everything.

“It gave me a reason to fight,” he said. “I see those pictures and I think, ‘I better get through this. ‘I’ve got things to take care of now.’ “

Jen Laubach check on her newborn Mitchell James Laubach after her husband Andre Laubach carefully put him in his car seat for their ride to their home in Clarkston from Troy Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Michigan on Saturday, April 25, 2020. Jen and husband Andre Laubach had a tense month of April with both testing positive for COVID-19 and Jen giving birth prematurely to her twins Mitchell and Maksim Laubach on April 3, 2020. They were able to take Mitchell home but Maksim had to stay at the hospital for some followup tests but will be joining his twin brother later in the week.  (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)

Meeting the boys

The Laubachs would go three weeks before they got to meet their boys, who also couldn’t come home right away because they were born prematurely and needed extra care. On Thursday, after being cleared by infectious disease doctors at Beaumont, the couple finally went to the hospital and held their sons. 

They also took a quick course at the hospital in caring for preemies as they would soon be bringing the boys home. The delay in bringing them home gave them plenty of time to set up the nursery, which wasn’t ready yet as the twins weren’t due until May 11, the day of their scheduled C-section.

The couple also had to cancel their baby shower because of the virus, though their friends and family had mailed all the gifts.

The worst is behind them now. It’s time to

be a family.

“Andre relied on wanting to see his kids, to feed his kids, that’s what got him through,” his wife recalled. “For us to be reunited as a family.”

On Saturday, they drove away from Beaumont Hospital, with baby Mitchell in the back. His brother could be home by the end of the week. 

Andre Laubach credits much of this to his wife.

“Jen drove a half an hour after her water broke, after thinking I was dying, diagnosed with coronavirus and then delivered two babies with no support” he said. “She’s tough.”

The experience also taught him a valuable lesson.

“Don’t take the moments that you have with the people you love for granted,” he said. “You just gotta cherish every day that you have.”

Contact Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com.

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