Andre Laubach’s story starts with this big guy walking around, licking doorknobs and doing other stupid things. He buys pizza with fistfuls of change, letting the coins clatter to the ground. He is just a reckless fool who gets himself infected with the coronavirus. At least that’s how actors portrayed him in one Japanese news show called Mystery Extreme back in June. Andre has a good sense of humor and looks forward to the DVD. He says it should be hilarious.
The true story is not a comedy, but an epic testament of his family’s strength. Their story has captivated audiences on MSN, ABC, CBS, Good Morning America, and The View as well as international news. This is Andre’s full story.
Andre and his wife Jennifer were living in Clarkston, Michigan. The future was looking bright. They were going to be first-time parents with twins due at the end of May. To celebrate, they planned a grand baby shower that would have a hundred and fifty people in attendance. Sadly, with the number of coronavirus cases increasing in the U.S., all large gatherings were to be canceled.
Then, in the second week of March, Andre’s wife was told by her construction firm to quarantine at home.
“To be completely honest, I was looking forward to the quarantine. We were about to have these two kids. Life’s going to get crazy in May. And now I’ve got this one month in which I can just wake up in my sweatpants, work in my basement and just be home and relax and have some quality time with my wife. I was excited about it.”
It definitely did not turn out to be relaxing. While quarantined at home, Jennifer developed a deep, annoying cough. It seemed like the flu, but it was worrying because she was sick right at the same time news of the pandemic was hitting the spotlight, and at the time there were so few cases in Michigan that nobody knew much about the virus.
The following week, the governor of Michigan made the shelter-in-place announcement, and Andre also started working at home on the 24th.
“I woke up to work the full day. It was great. When I was done, I went for a run. When I came back home, I went to walk up the stairs to take a shower and I was just drained walking up the stairs. It was a different kind of tired. It wasn’t like, oh, my legs are sore. It was like my body had no energy.”
Whatever Jennifer had, he had it now too. For the next week, it seemed that he had a flu that stubbornly didn’t want to go away. He had low energy levels and an uncomfortable soreness in his back. Still, it didn’t seem like the coronavirus. Despite having asthma his whole life, he didn’t have a cough or shortness of breath, and he took his temperature twice a day but didn’t have a fever.
On March 29th, his symptoms took a sudden change for the worse. At around 7 p.m. he started coughing with this angry, deep in the chest cough that just continued nonstop. It was so violent that it became hard for him to breathe.
Around 8 p.m., Jennifer asked him if they should go to the emergency room. Andre wanted to fight through it first, and he tried, but after 90 minutes he realized the cough wasn’t going anywhere, so he relented. But he was terrified. He figured that he had coronavirus, and he didn’t know if he would ever see her again or see their kids
When Jennifer dropped him off at the hospital, he was coughing so much that he couldn’t even get out words. All he could do was sign that he loved her. Then at the hospital, they wanted him to stay distanced away from a glass window and speak loudly, which he couldn’t. He was coughing and coughing and unable to tell them what was going on. They finally admitted him.
“The tending physician took my oxygen levels and said, ‘Your oxygen levels are good. It’s probably just asthma. So we’re going to send you back home with an asthma inhaler.’”
Within an hour, they were sending him on his way. It felt really dismissive as if they thought he had been watching the news too much and it was just in his head. They wouldn’t give him a coronavirus test, and he already had the same asthma inhaler at home. He had no idea how an inhaler would even help since his oxygen levels were good. Thankfully, while he was in the E.R., his cough subsided a little bit.
His wife was not satisfied with the hospital’s response. The next day on March 30th, Andre’s birthday, he woke up, walked downstairs, and was greeted by his wife who said, “Happy Birthday, I got you a coronavirus test.” She had reached out to her doctor through telehealth and gotten her doctor to prescribe the tests for them.
By the following day, the day they went to get their tests, their situation had switched. His wife was coughing badly.
“I remember even joking with the person who was administering the tests and saying, ‘You know, I’m not really worried about myself. I’m worried about my wife. I think my wife is, you know, really coughing and she’s pregnant.’ I said, ‘I think I’m fine. Pardon me.’ So I must’ve been feeling pretty good at that point in time.”
The test results would take a couple of days. The good feeling didn’t last. That night, Andre’s bad cough came back with a vengeance, and the worst came on Wednesday night and Thursday early morning. He tried Dayquil, Nyquil, and Tylenol – nothing seemed helped. And both he and his wife were sick.
“I’m downstairs. It’s 2 a.m. and I coughed violently until about 7 or 8 a.m.. One point in time I coughed so hard I vomited. It was just awful. It is the kind of cough where after a while you feel like you’re breaking your ribs.”
At around eight, he finally was able to fall asleep, and then about 10 a.m. he heard Jennifer start saying, “Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no!”
“I’m laying there. I’m trying not to move because anytime I move, I cough, so I’m just like trying to be frozen, but she’s shouting, ‘I think my water just broke.’”
It was eight weeks too early. Even without coronavirus in the equation, this situation would be scary enough. But now they both probably had the coronavirus. Andre could barely stand. His wife went into the bathroom, came out, and informed him that yes, her water had really broken. They had to go to the hospital.
The babies wouldn’t wait. He mustered up everything he could to go upstairs. By the time he got to the top of the stairs, he was so exhausted and coughing so violently that he had to lie against the floor of the bed because he felt as if he was going to pass out, but he was driven. He needed to take his wife to the hospital.
In a daze, he changed clothes and packed her bag. Somehow he got together clothes for her and the babies, the phone charger, and her Nintendo switch. Then he got on the phone with Troy Beaumont hospital. While coughing violently, he managed to explain to them that his wife was 32 weeks pregnant, her water just broke, and that they both probably had the coronavirus.
“I could almost hear the woman’s head explode at the other end of the line because they don’t know what to do.”
He was put on hold. The woman finally got back on and told him which entrance to take his wife to. Everything was happening within a five to ten minute span of time. Jennifer suddenly got a phone call from her doctor. His coronavirus test had come back, and he was positive.
Andre tried to stay focused. It didn’t matter. He had to get his wife to the hospital and get those babies delivered safely. He was still rushing around and trying to grab everything and coughing. But the effort was too much for his body.
“I remember, at that point in time, Jen’s, like, ‘OK, are you ready to go on?’ I’m sitting in a chair because I can’t stand at that point. And I know she’s looking for me to take the keys and drive her to the hospital. I can’t drive. I know I can’t drive. I know that I cannot honestly get behind the wheel of a car and think that I can because it’s like a 25, 30 minute drive. There’s no way I can safely do this.”
Andre had always believed in mind over matter, but he just couldn’t get his body to cooperate. So after 30 seconds of her waiting for him to respond, Jennifer grabbed the keys and told him that she was driving. He felt so bad about it. She was in labor, but he couldn’t do it. He had to let her.
They both got in the car. They only had made it a quarter mile from their house when her doctor called again. Andre wasn’t going to be allowed in the hospital because he was Covid positive.
So Jennifer turned the car around and dropped him off at the house. As he got out and continued his violent coughing, they looked at each other in another moment of sad realization that they might not see each other again. He watched his wife who was in labor drive off to the hospital and he, the husband, went to the guest bed and lay back down.
When Jennifer arrived at the hospital, the staff was suited up in full PPE and treating her as if she had the coronavirus. Later that day, her coronavirus test would come back negative, but the hospital had her take another. The babies were also at high risk because they were coming eight weeks too early, so the physicians wanted to delay the labor as long as possible. They had her lie very still, and she spent some time calling Andre and her family. When the nurses heard that her husband was too sick to drive, they urged her to tell Andre to call 911 and go to the hospital.
At home, Andre was coughing horribly. Adrenaline was mixing in with fear. His symptoms were at their worst. He felt like he was dying, and he eventually did call 911.
The paramedics came, but like before, they checked his oxygen levels, and his levels were okay.
“They’re like, ‘Listen, you’re not a great candidate for a bed. We don’t have enough beds. There’s a ton of people that are in beds. So, I will take you to a hospital if you want, but I’m telling you, there’s people that need a bed more than you. I’m like, ‘Geez, thanks, guys. Fine, I guess I’ll stay and die here. What do you want me to do?’ So what they said is: ‘Well, just leave the door unlocked. And if it gets worse, just call us back. We know who you are.’”
It was the weirdest advice, but that is what he did. He left the door unlocked in case things got worse and they left.
While he was lying down, he managed to find one position where he wouldn’t cough. He needed to take full-body deep breaths through the nose and nothing else. Every other type of breath would send him into a coughing frenzy that made it hard to breathe. He just had to breathe. Living meant breathing.
“I had a weird sense of clarity. It was 72 hours of just focusing on breathing and staying alive. It was almost a Zen-like meditation type thing because this is all I need to be worrying about right now.”
At the hospital, Jennifer’s second coronavirus test came back positive. That night she took some anti-pain medication that knocked her out. She slept long, and when she woke up at six, she was already dilated.
Except for the labor team being in full PPE, it was pretty normal labor. The first boy, Mitch, came out with no problems. When Max, their second boy, came out, his heart rate dropped a little bit, so they rushed him out. But everything turned out fine. Fearing that she might transmit the virus to her kids, the labor team wouldn’t let Jennifer touch her babies. Both of her babies were placed into an incubator behind a protective barrier, so she was able to see them and wave to them, but she never held them. Then because they were premature, they were whisked away to the natal intensive care unit (NICU).
Andre wanted to stay awake to get text updates, but he spent a lot of time sleeping. He had so little energy and he didn’t cough while sleeping. He would wake up and find pictures sent to him of his kids, which was really weird, and eight missed calls. People were calling him and texting him all the time, which was nice, but responding wasn’t the priority.
“I was in that Zen moment, whereas, I didn’t really care if I responded to people or kept them in the loop or whatever, because it was just about focusing on breathing and staying alive.”
Andre was suffering. He had very little appetite and bad diarrhea, which caused him to lose a lot of weight. He was also pretty dehydrated. He tried to keep his mouth wet by eating a little bit of fruit or drinking as much Gatorade as he could stand, just to replenish the liquids he was losing. But the most awful symptom was the cough. He figured that if he only could get breaths in, he wasn’t in danger of dying.
“My continual fear was this is going to get worse. You know, 10 out of 10 will kill me. I’m at an eight or nine. I just need one that one little push and then I’m gone. The thinking is that this is going to get worse. I’m going to be one of these people on a ventilator.”
Fortunately, his symptoms started subsiding. On that Sunday, he was feeling good enough to actually drive to the hospital and pick his wife up. She had been there for three days.
After Jennifer came home, Andre was exhausted and sleeping 14 hours a day. Jennifer’s coronavirus symptoms were getting better, but just as he was starting to feel relieved about himself, another major family health issue surfaced. Jennifer’s blood pressure was dangerously high. They weren’t out of the woods yet.
Her blood pressure was staying around 180 and not going under 150. It put her in danger of having a stroke or a heart attack, which was frightening. The following Tuesday, she went back to the hospital. They diagnosed her with preeclampsia. In hindsight, the doctors said that it was uncertain whether the coronavirus or the preeclampsia caused her body to go into labor early, but most likely the virus caused both the preeclampsia and the premature birth. Her body had been trying to rid itself of foreign bodies. That Jennifer had driven herself to the hospital with a coronavirus infection, with preeclampsia, and while in labor was just amazing.
Jennifer got some medication to get her heart rate down. After another week both of them were pretty much symptom free.
“That’s when it started to turn from surreal to just very frustrating because we’re fine. We’re ready to see our kids now. We’re healthy. We’re good. We’re through it, and we still couldn’t see our kids because we kept testing positive.”
Every three days they were getting themselves tested for the coronavirus, and they continued getting positive results. The hospital wouldn’t let them into the NICU.
The nurses were great, though. Twice a day, Jennifer and Andre were doing 45 minute Zoom calls with the nurses who showed them their kids. Mitch was good from the get-go, but Max was on and off the ventilator for the first week, which was scary. The two boys were eight weeks premature; it was just awful to not be next to them and only see them on screens.
“So we’re just testing and every time the tests come back that we’re still positive. I’m trying to be as calm about it as possible. I could tell it crushed my wife every single time it came back positive. That’s another at least three days that she can’t see her kids.”
The woman in charge of the NICU and the head of the Infectious Disease Center at Troy Beaumont ended up deciding that since they were symptom-free for so long that they would be given their own section of the NICU so they could see their kids. The nurses would just be in full PPE.
So, three weeks after their boys were born, Andre and Jennifer were finally united with their babies. During this time, their story had reached national attention. It was surreal. When they walked into the hospital, the TV was playing one of their interviews. There were camera crews recording the meeting. Everybody was expecting them to have a really emotional reaction.
But with all the media attention, it was strange. It was also the first time Andre was meeting his sons, and they didn’t know who he was either. There was no instant parental bond. It was more like a meeting where he said, “Hi, how are you? I’m going to be your dad, you know?”
“But, you get to hold them for the first time and be there with them. It was so nice. It felt very right. Again, another one of those I don’t have to focus on anything else but just being a dad right now type moments. So it was nice to just be so focused and in the moment and to just be with them.”
About two days later, they were able to bring Mitch home. Max needed to stay in the hospital for another two weeks because he was having breathing episodes. During this time each day, one of them, Jennifer or Andre, would stay with Mitch and the other would go to the hospital to be with Max. It was an interesting time learning how to be parents, and at times, he felt like he had been thrown into the fire. They still were testing positive for the coronavirus, so they couldn’t get help from others, and they were taking care of a preemie at home. There was no time for his job, just time to take care of his babies.
On day 35 after the boys’ birth, Max finally came home. Relief finally set in. They seemed to have gotten through it all. Everyone seemed healthy. Life finally could get back to normality.
Or so he thought.
One night, Andre was sleeping upstairs and Jennifer started screaming. He ran downstairs to find out that Max wasn’t breathing. He was turning blue. Max was dying. They called 911.
Because of the coronavirus, Andre and Jennifer had missed their infant-safety classes, and they didn’t know how to do CPR. The paramedics were on their way, but the paramedics might come too late.
Over the phone, the 911 operator taught Andre how to do infant CPR. He had only one shot to get it right. His son wasn’t taking any breaths. His wife was crying. The tone in her voice had changed from panicking to, “Oh, my God, I’m watching my son die in front of me.” He listened to the instructions and then proceeded to give rescue breaths. After the breaths, he was supposed to give compressions. The operator told him to press in one inch, but Max’s body was only like three inches thick. If Andre pressed in one inch he would break his son’s ribs, but he had no choice.
“I was terrified and it honestly was like a movie. I had my hands on his chest and I’m taking a deep breath to actually get the courage to do it. And I go. And then he coughed and started crying. At that exact moment, if he had waited just a little longer, I was going to do that compression and probably break his breastbone or something. So he started coughing and then I had kept it together that whole time. The moment he started coughing, breathing, I just lost it.”
Seeing the ambulance pick Max up and then hearing Mitch start crying still haunts Andre. They went to the hospital. Max didn’t have the coronavirus. He had a group B strep infection, which was not uncommon, but because he was a preemie, it had become dangerous. So, he had to stay in the hospital on antibiotics for another two weeks. There was only one piece of good news. While they were at the hospital, after forty-five days of having tested positive for the coronavirus, both Andre and his wife finally tested negative.
His family just didn’t seem to get any breaks. Jennifer and Andre had another round of switching back and forth, taking care of Mitch at home and visiting Max at the hospital. This time, though, he called up his parents and his in-laws and asked them if they were willing to take the risk to help them out, and they did. They started coming over, which helped, and Max and Mitch were introduced to the greater family.
Since that time, his kids have stayed healthy, and Andre has been able to get back to some kind of work. They haven’t had more excitement. He’s happy about that. He’s ready to do normal dad things.
“Yes. I hope this is my best story ever. And I just can lead a boring life from here on out. This is more than enough excitement. I keep telling everybody I hope to never see me on the news again.”
Looking back at the family’s experience, Andre learned a lot about himself and his family that he had never known. He learned the strength they had through delivering twins while fighting the coronavirus.
“I learned how tough my family is. I learned how tough my wife is to go into labor, drive herself to the hospital with coronavirus, and deliver two premature babies without any family support. Seeing how strong my kids are to go through everything they went through — they don’t know it yet, but I can’t wait to tell them about how strong they are. For me, just knowing that I have the will to live and that when it comes down to it, I will fight for it.”
Read another story about a how a newborn son fought for his life in a NICU against all odds during the pandemic. Or watch more stories on fuconomy’s youtube channel.