Pregnant American teacher flown home to UAE after government help

Hannah O'Reilly was thousands of miles from her husband in Dubai when flights were shut down

A pregnant Dubai resident who feared she would be forced to give birth on her parents’ couch amid the crippling coronavirus outbreak in the US has been rescued from her ordeal.

Hannah O’Reilly, 29, was visiting her family in a New York suburb when it was announced last week that flights back to the UAE would be suspended, leaving her stranded.

She believed she would be unable to return to her adopted home and would instead be left to fend for herself, as New York finds itself at the centre of an escalating coronavirus outbreak.

However, after she spoke to The National about her predicament after she was flown back to the UAE on Sunday by an embassy plane taking Emirati citizens home.

I don't know how I can ever thank the UAE leadership for showing me mercy and such generosity

Now recovering in quarantine at the Radisson Blu hotel on Yas Island, Ms O’Reilly said she was “eternally grateful” for how she had been treated and believed a solution would soon be found for the estimated 29,000 other UAE residents currently stuck overseas.

“I don’t know how I can ever thank the UAE leadership for showing me mercy and such generosity,” she said.

“I feel like the lucky one, and have some survivors’ guilt, but I know that they would not just do something like this for me and then not care about everyone else.”

Ms O’Reilly, a supply teacher, travelled to the US on March 11 to visit her mother who had undergone cancer surgery.

When she learned that a travel ban in and out of the UAE was being brought into force, she scrambled to find a flight.

Her medical insurance for her trip to America had expired and she worried about where she would give birth, as well as the costs.

Ms O'Reilly said she was aware of one person who had contracted the coronavirus and had been left with bills of more than $30,000 (Dh110,175).

“I didn’t know how I would ever be able to pay any medical bills but that started to become the least of my worries,” she said.

“I didn’t know if I would be able to get treatment if I got coronavirus. I couldn’t take any medication if I did get it because I’m pregnant.

“I started contacting gynaecologists and none of them could take on any more patients. The hospitals, especially in my area, were quickly approaching capacity.

“And even if I didn’t get coronavirus, I thought: 'Am I going to end up having to give birth on my parents’ couch?'

"My father is also an essential employee in New York City, so I was starting to have to isolate away from my family.

“When the [UAE] airports closed I was devastated, but I sort of accepted defeat.

"I started preparing an isolation room – to be there for a few months. Then I got a call from a director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and he said: 'His Highness has seen your article and wants to ensure your safe return.'”

Initially, Ms O’Reilly said it seemed so unbelievable that she was worried the call could be the start of a scam.

She was reassured when she received a follow-up from the UAE embassy, which had been in touch with her previously. She said she was later told that Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, intervened upon hearing of her situation.

Since then, the process has been a “breeze”, she said. After officials got in touch, she drove to Washington DC where she was put in a hotel by UAE embassy staff. On Sunday, she was put on a plane home.

Speaking to The National on Monday, Ms O'Reilly said she knew she had been "one of the lucky ones" but believed a solution would soon be found for other UAE residents who were still abroad.

She used her Instagram account to document her generous treatment but also to highlight the plight of others overseas, including a woman who has been unable to return to the UAE from the UK to continue her cancer treatment.

“In America, they told everyone from Europe to come back,” she said. “So everyone flocked back and it was a circus.

"At O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, people waited something like six hours, maybe more, in crowds. So you had people getting infected, probably, because of that.

“So I am not frustrated that they [the UAE] made the flight ban suddenly. I trust that they had to.

"I also really do trust that they have a system that they’re working on for people like me. I think they’re trying to work something out to get everyone back safely.

“There’s an Abraham Lincoln quote; he said: ‘Give me six hours to chop down the tree, and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe’.

"I keep thinking about that – because that’s what I think they’re doing, getting the system right first. If they just give in to all of our panic, they’re going to get people sick.”

After arriving at Abu Dhabi, Ms O’Reilly was taken to Yas Island where all the passengers on her flight will spend the next fortnight in quarantine.

While she said some of her fellow travellers felt frustrated at the prospect of confinement, she was grateful for the serenity of a two-week stay at a high-end hotel, even if she cannot leave her room.

She said she had received special medical attention from Ministry of Health and Prevention officials who were already aware of her pregnancy.

“I’m sticking to the phrase: 'I’m not stuck in quarantine, I’m safe in quarantine',” she said, "because my previous situation was really, really bad.

"I could hear people on the plane talking about how it was going to be like prison, but they obviously know nothing about prison.

“I have room service. They’re doing my laundry for me. I have a balcony overlooking the water.

"I had been truly physically ill from the stress when I was in the US. So I think two weeks alone, being taken care of in a hotel, is exactly what I need.

"I miss my husband and my cat. I can’t wait to see them, but I really need to heal right now and unwind.”