Retired goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc 'stronger' following separation from newborn daughter
1st-time mother spent 17 days away from family after heart failure, COVID-19 scare
It was bigger than any moment or game through her 17 years as a goalkeeper for the Canadian national women's soccer team.
Karina LeBlanc was returning to her home in the Bahamas from her second hospital visit in a little more than a week after giving birth to her first child on March 24, only this time she would have to spend 14 days in self-isolation after doctors feared she contracted the coronavirus during her two-night stay.
"For so long, my life was about the game of soccer and all of a sudden this was so much bigger than a game. It was life and death," LeBlanc recalled about the night her husband Jason Mathot drove to the hospital while his wife struggled to breathe sitting alongside their daughter, Paris. LeBlanc was unaware she was experiencing heart failure.
"As athletes, we know our bodies, and I knew something was off," said LeBlanc, who won 110 caps for Canada and retired in 2015 as the second-longest serving member of the women's national team. "I went from struggling to breathe to, 'Oh my God, am I going to die?' Am I going to see Paris grow up?' I was overloaded with fear."
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After a CT scan, doctors told the 40-year-old LeBlanc she had pleural effusion, or an unusual amount of fluid around the lungs, brought on by heart failure. Pleura are thin membranes that line the lungs and inside of the chest cavity and act to lubricate and facilitate breathing.
"I got a taste of her and then it was gone," LeBlanc, who is American-Canadian, told Jacqueline Doorey of CBC Sports during a Zoom call on Monday.
Parenting with husband through FaceTime
While Paris' voice tugged at her mother's emotions as she lay in bed after returning home, LeBlanc quickly realized the difficulties of coping with the situation. She would cry because of the hormones, watching her daughter through glass in a door, unable to get overly emotional as a rise in blood pressure could mean another trip to the hospital.
Thank you all for your prayers and positive thoughts.<br>You are all giving us strength during this time.<br><br>“Walk by faith and not by sight”<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/10moredays?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#10moredays</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HaveToKeepBloodPressureDown?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HaveToKeepBloodPressureDown</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TryingToStayPositiveandStrong?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TryingToStayPositiveandStrong</a> <a href="https://t.co/ZVLzxTdtxI">pic.twitter.com/ZVLzxTdtxI</a>—@karinaleblanc
To keep occupied, she wrote her thoughts in a journal and parented with Jason through FaceTime.
"It was difficult, but a lot of strength came from my faith and from other people reaching out," said LeBlanc, who had a strong support group, led by Jason — whom she married in October 2016 — along with family and former teammates.
On April 17, LeBlanc and her daughter were reunited after 17 days. Holding Paris again, she noted, was so powerful, the "best moment."
She just makes me smile...<br><br>And she loves my singing too 🥰Probably the only person in this world. <br><br>Wanted to share and hope it makes you smile as many of you have done for us throughout this journey. <br><br>Find a reason to smile today! <a href="https://t.co/08Dk4d2NnB">pic.twitter.com/08Dk4d2NnB</a>—@karinaleblanc
A two-time Olympian who won a bronze medal in 2012 at the London Games, LeBlanc believes she battled the virus to be stronger and "I'm stronger for the next chapter in my life, whether that's for motherhood or for me to share [my] story again."
'Paris has been our light'
Jason, a midfielder in his soccer-playing days, was "blown away" by how Paris took to her mom immediately upon reconnecting.
"There was no hesitation," he said. "It was an immediate connection, and beautiful to watch."
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During last year's women's World Cup in France, LeBlanc was based in Paris for 45 days as an analyst with Fox Sports and decided to name her first child after the capital city.
"Travelling the world, it's [Jason and my] top-three favourite cities and that's where she was conceived," LeBlanc said while holding Paris in her arms. "It was a World Cup showing the strength of women, the power of women and what women can do in this world. We want her to believe she can do anything.
"I'm moving forward wanting to be the best version of myself for [Paris] so she sees a woman that makes her proud. I want her to say, 'That's what a woman should be' and she surpasses that."
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