Sick With COVID, She Gave Birth on a Ventilator. This Teacher Took Her Newborn In.

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August 11, 2020

Zully was around eight months pregnant when she began to cough and wheeze.

Then came the hospitalization, the COVID-19 diagnosis — and word that because the baby’s oxygen levels were dropping, he’d have to be delivered weeks early.

For Zully and her family, who emigrated to Stamford, Connecticut from Guatemala, it was a crisis moment: Her husband, Marvin, and seven-year-old son, Junior, were also believed to be infected with the coronavirus — meaning that once the baby was born, it wouldn’t be safe for him to go home to them.

“I would’ve turned into my son’s assassin,” Marvin says.

Zully (above, left) had nowhere else to turn. In early April, just before giving birth on a ventilator and being put into a coma that would last for nearly three weeks, she made a desperate phone call to her older son’s English as a Second Language teacher, Luciana Lira (above, right) — an immigrant herself — saying that Marvin and Junior needed help.

Lira didn’t hesitate. Ultimately, she would go on to take the baby, Neysel, into her home to keep him safe from the virus as his mother, father and brother recovered from it.

I am willing to help, 100 percent,” the teacher recalls saying.

Their remarkable story unfolds in Love, Life & the Virus, a documentary directed by Oscar Guerra that comes to FRONTLINE Tuesday, Aug. 11. A Spanish-language version in collaboration with FRONTLINE will air on Univision’s Aquí y Ahora the following Sunday.

By turns heartbreaking and heartwarming, Love, Life & the Virus tells the story of how the community in Stamford stepped in to help Zully and her family in their hour of need. In the above clip, watch as doctors and nurses at Stamford Hospital describe the severity of Zully’s COVID-19 case and the uncertainties it presented for her baby — and as Lira takes newborn Neysel into her arms and her home while the rest of his family battles the coronavirus.

“This baby would have not [stood] a chance if he went home with his father with COVID-19 and Junior,” Lira tells FRONTLINE in the above clip. “He’s just a preemie baby.”

For the full story, watch Love, Life & the Virus – a powerful look at one family’s quest to be reunited, and the community members who helped make it possible.

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Zully holds a printed-out photo of her infant son, Neysel, in her hospital bed.

“Maybe if I would have been in Guatemala,” Zully says in the film, “it is possible that I may not have gotten better and I wouldn’t be telling this story.”

FRONTLINE’s two-part hour featuring Love, Life & the Virus (as well as a second segment, Undocumented in the Pandemic, with The Marshall Project and the Pulitzer Center) premieres Tues., Aug. 11. Both stories will be available to watch in full at pbs.org/frontline and in the PBS Video App starting that night at 7/6c. The hour will premiere on PBS stations (check local listings) and on YouTube at 10/9c. A Spanish-language version of Love, Life & the Virus will air on Univision’s newsmagazine program Aquí y Ahora on Sun., Aug. 16 at 7/6c.

 

 


Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE

Twitter:

@ptaddonio

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