Laura Brown Autumn Carver on her rehab discharge day
It's been a long road for Autumn Carver, but after a little over three months, the Indiana mom is finally headed home!
On Wednesday, 35-year-old Autumn — who has battled COVID-19 side effects for months — was finally discharged from Chicago's Shirley Ryan AbilityLab rehab center.
The exciting moment was one she and her husband Zach had been looking forward to ever since she was first hospitalized on Aug. 25 after testing positive for COVID while pregnant with their third child.
"We're so excited. We get to see our kiddos tomorrow," Autumn tells PEOPLE. "It will be day 100 since I went into the hospital, so excited probably doesn't cover it."
"I'm most excited for all five of us being a family under one roof for the first time," she adds. "The baby [Huxley] just turned three months old and we're going to surprise our kiddos, our two older daughters, Harlow and Sadie. The look on their faces, we're pretty excited to see them."
Adds Zach: "I still have to pinch myself occasionally because I saw her in such bad shape for such a long time. I'm very happy that she's alive. We went through this for a reason and we're just extremely, extremely grateful, and we thank the good Lord for Autumn and her miracle."
Laura Brown Zach and Autumn Carver
A miracle once seemed unlikely for Autumn, who opted not to receive the COVID vaccine after discussing her three previous miscarriages with a doctor, according to NBC affiliate WTHR.
However, in a health advisory, the Centers for Disease Control urgently warned pregnant women to get vaccinated against COVID-19 because of the significant risk of hospitalization or death from the virus. Pregnancy significantly increases the likelihood of hospitalization or death if a person contracts COVID-19.
During Autumn's medical battle, which Zach has continued to document online, Autumn was put on a ventilator before giving birth to their son Huxley via emergency C-section. She was later placed on an ECMO machine, where she remained for close to two months as the virus wreaked havoc on her lungs.
In October, Autumn was transferred from IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where Dr. Ankit Bharat, the chief of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Medicine, was expected to perform a lung transplant.
Laura Brown Autumn Carver and Dr. Ankit Bharat
"When we took on Autumn, the probability was pretty low that she would get better because she had been on the ventilator and ECMO for an extended period of time," Dr. Bharat tells PEOPLE. "If you need ECMO for over a month, your probability of coming off without something like a lung transplant is less than 5 percent."
"But we looked at all her x-rays and ventilator settings and ECMO, and [decided to] reconfigure them and put her on a different form of ECMO that we believe is better for lung recovery," he explains. "We changed everything, and we gave her some more time to improve. And she started to show improvement in her lung function. So we said, 'Okay. Well, let's just keep holding off on transplant because if you can get her better without a transplant, that's always the best thing.'"
And that's exactly what happened.
Following the change in settings, Autumn's condition slowly started to improve, and Zach documented each exciting milestone on Facebook.
The good news continued into November when Zach announced that his wife had finally been released from the hospital's intensive care unit and was removed from her feeding tube.
Laura Brown Autumn Carver and Dr. Ankit Bharat
In recent weeks, Autumn has focused on regaining her strength and mobility after being transferred from Northwestern Memorial Hospital to Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.
After passing multiple tests on Wednesday, Autumn was advised by her doctor to get the COVID vaccine as soon as possible before being cleared to head home to her kids, who she hasn't seen in person since August.
"I tried to ask Sadie, who is 4, what she wanted for Christmas and bless her little heart, the only thing she could come up with is that she wanted mommy to come home," Autumn says.
"We did FaceTime and have seen pictures and lots of videos, but she hasn't seen our daughters in 100 days and it's put them through the wringer, as well as us," Zach notes. "Every time I saw them, I would just tell them that mommy's getting better. It's going to be a long time, but we would say prayers for her every morning and I'd just reassure them that she's going to come home ... So we're looking forward to that reunion."
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Though she currently has a brace on her left leg due to nerve damage, Autumn says she is grateful for her second chance at life — and intends to use it wisely.
"I'm feeling really good," she says. "It's incredible how much your body can be deconditioned after laying in a hospital bed for so long. But I feel more and more like myself every day."
"I've always said, with everything in life — with kids, and friends, and family — you pick your battles," she adds. "Life is too short, so just be kind to people. You never know what people are going through. That was my biggest takeaway before and feels even more appropriate now to say."
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