Transcript

Love, Life & the Virus

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MARVIN:

[Speaking Spanish] The illness took me by surprise. Many people had already told me she had it because of the symptoms. When my wife started feeling worse, she told me her back was hurting. And I saw her coughing, and could I tell she was wheezing.

The next day, she was feeling fatigued with a lot of coughing. And she told me, “The baby is moving too much. So much that I can’t sleep.” I saw what bad shape she was in so she needed to get to the hospital.

I could tell that she was short of breath. I definitely thought she had it then.

We still had a month before the baby was due. Then the hospital told me that they were going to move my wife’s delivery up because the baby was losing oxygen.

I stayed here at the house with our 7-year-old son praying to God because I didn’t have anyone else to help me out.

It was around April 4 that I received a call telling me that my son was born. So I thanked God. Then I asked them how my wife was doing. They said they couldn’t tell me much at the moment because she was in a coma.

MALE NURSE:

What's that?

FEMALE NURSE:

We need a medium-sized Allevyn pad cut in half.

MALE NURSE:

OK.

FEMALE NURSE:

Grab me a clean specimen bag for me to put this in.

SHRUTI GUPTA, M.D., Neonatologist:

Zully's case was very unique for us because this was one of our first few cases with a mom who was extremely sick and COVID-positive. Was the baby going to be extremely sick and infected as a result of COVID, too? We did not know that at that time. There was not a lot of data there.

Now we know that most babies don't get extremely sick with COVID, but at that time we were not aware of that.

KATHY LIVOLSI, R.N., Dir., Clinical Operations, Maternal/Child Health:

The baby did have several tests done and he tested negative, but we knew that Mom was positive. And then we had to safely execute on a plan for him to go home to a safe environment.

Willy's going to check your temperature.

MALE NURSE:

Any symptoms? OK.

MARVIN:

[Speaking Spanish] I got a call from the hospital telling me that I have to go pick up my baby. And since they told me that my wife had the illness, I figured I had it, too. I was sure. I would’ve turned into my son’s assassin.

But the person who I was in touch with the most was Miss Lira—the teacher, Miss Lira. She told me, "Zully called me and asked me to take care of the baby."

LUCIANA LIRA:

I said, "Listen, Marvin, I am willing to help, 100%." I really did not know this family. Zully just came to the United States I think a year ago, and Marvin has been here for six years, and Junior is my bilingual student. And that’s how I met them.

When we were able to test Marvin and Junior, they were both COVID-19 positive. This baby would have not stood a chance if he went home with his father with COVID-19 and Junior. He's just a preemie baby.

I went to the hospital with Marvin.

Oh, my God. Hi, baby. [Speaking Spanish] Zully, look at your son, Zully.

[Speaking English] It wasn't easy, because, you know, he saw his son for the first time and he couldn't even go near him.

[Speaking Spanish] Look at your papa. Look at your papa!

[Speaking English] And it really broke my heart, after going through such a big trauma, not even knowing if your wife was going to make it.

[Speaking Spanish] Your father also loves you very much, baby. Your mother is waiting.

[Speaking English] And I took the baby home. Right, baby?

NEYSEL

LUCIANA LIRA:

Hold it, hold it, hold it. There you go. You can trust. Right, buddy?

I was thinking I was staying with the baby for one and two days, and now I am three weeks.

FEMALE PHYSICIAN:

So how many patients do we have now?

MALE PHYSICIAN:

We have nine.

MICHAEL BERNSTEIN, M.D., Assoc. Dir., Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine:

Zully, who was young compared to most of our patients, she was brought down to the ICU, knowing that her oxygen level had gotten precariously worse. We decided that we were going to have to intubate her or put her on a breathing machine to help support her oxygen.

FEMALE NURSE:

This patient over there, when I started him, he was on 100%—

ERICA MATZKEVICH, R.N., ICU Nurse:

The night nurse gave me my assignment, which was Zully, and she said, "She's 30 years old. She just had a baby. She's really sick. She was super unstable overnight. And she's going to be your only patient right now, so, you only can—you only have to focus on her." She was absolutely one of the sickest patients on the floor at that time. And I thought she very well might not make it through this. And that was terrifying.

MICHAEL BERNSTEIN:

While she was intubated, she spent a good majority of the time actually upside down on a fancy bed that actually takes you and turns you completely over. So when you're on that, she was completely in a coma.

ERICA MATZKEVICH:

In my head I said, "She's not going to die in my time. I'm not going to let that happen."

FEMALE MEDICAL STAFF:

She's OK? OK.

MALE TRANSLATOR:

Can I have the patient’s first and last name, please?

MALE MEDICAL STAFF:

Zully.

MICHAEL BERNSTEIN:

She was in the ICU almost three weeks total, I think. She was on the ventilator for about 18 days and then another day or two afterwards, as we were waking her up and regaining her strength.

FEMALE NURSE:

I got you.

MICHAEL BERNSTEIN:

It takes a while to get their body back up and running.

FEMALE NURSE:

Do you need to rest?

MICHAEL BERNSTEIN:

It’s an unfortunate consequence of being in the ICU. It's something we try to work through with our patients. There's issues of patients who have PTSD from being in the ICU.

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] When I woke up, I didn’t know where I was. I thought I was in 2005, not in 2020. I thought I was in Guatemala, not here.

In my mind, the oldest one, Junior, I would see him crawling and nobody paid attention to him. He would say, “Mommy, I'm hungry.” But I saw that the nurses would move him aside. They would kick him. I would tell them, “Hey, don’t kick my son.”

MICHAEL BERNSTEIN:

Most people who were in the ICU take weeks, if not months, to gain her strength back. I imagine that's what she's going through. But most people will tell you even their mind isn't back where they were.

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] Well, I want to hug him, have him with me and get out of here and be with my husband and two boys.

CATALINA SAMPER-HORAK, Founder & Exec. Dir., Building One Community:

[Speaking Spanish] Hi, sweeties, how are you? Please, stay there.

This card has $50, OK? So you can do your shopping.

[Speaking English] We met Zully and Marvin at the very beginning when she was hospitalized, when Zully was fighting for her life. We had people going every day to provide food to him and to Junior, toys to him. There was a phone call every day. "How are you doing? What else do you need?"

FEMALE SPEAKER:

[Speaking Spanish] You have been here for a year, right?

CATALINA SAMPER-HORAK:

Stamford is a very unique community in which almost 35% of the population is foreign-born.

[Speaking Spanish] There is some info about the virus so you can take it home to read it.

[Speaking English] And the pandemic was affecting families like Zully's disproportionately.

The whole pandemic and how it evolved and how fast it all happened, this is still hard to comprehend for all of us. So many people were losing their jobs. So many families did not have a way to feed their kids or pay the rent. So the community at large really rallied.

LUCIANA LIRA:

He’s a very good baby. Here, buddy. He's OK? OK.

I came here when I was 17 years old, from Brazil. My husband was an illegal immigrant. He came here when he was 19 years old. And look at him now. I mean, he is an immigrant who worked his way up. It's the American dream.

MARVIN [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] How are you?

LUCIANA LIRA:

Hi!

MARVIN

MARVIN [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] I called the doctors at the hospital because they told me that she was going to be released.

LUCIANA LIRA:

[Speaking Spanish] Released when?

MARVIN [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] Today or tomorrow, they told me.

LUCIANA LIRA:

[Speaking Spanish] So they told you it was going to be today? That’s strange, because, no. We need to call the doctors. It’s been two days since we spoke to them.

[Speaking English] Ay, call on hold.

LUCIANA'S HUSBAND:

I know, it's that time, buddy. I know. It's OK.

LUCIANA LIRA:

Oh, it looks like the hospital. Hello?

All of a sudden, I get a phone call, and it’s a doctor from the hospital. And they just tell me, "Oh, Zully's being discharged today at 4 o’clock. Somebody needs to be here to pick her up."

OK, we're sending her home, but her husband was not—you know he's COVID-19 positive and the brother is COVID-19 positive and the baby's COVID-19 negative, so—

I was in shock when I received that phone call because I really thought she was going to still be hospitalized for one more week, at least.

But if it was a person with insurance, then they would probably send her to a rehab, right? When do we have to pick her up? How does this work? I mean, I'm just a teacher. I don't know how this works.

I needed to pick her up at 4 o'clock. And I looked at my watch and I’m like, "Wait a second, it’s 2:45."

We can't, I am sorry. You're telling me you're giving me one hour to make arrangements for a patient who's been in an induced coma for a month? You cannot discharge this woman in one hour. [Cries] I am sorry, I just can’t—

CATALINA SAMPER-HORAK:

How to get Zully home became an entire project for all of us. I mean, their house, it seemed like thousands of miles away.

So I called the ambulance. I made the appointment. I told him to be there as late as possible to give us time to prepare. Then we went over to the house to wait for her to arrive.

[Speaking Spanish] How are you, my love? Are you happy your mommy is coming? Exactly.

LUCIANA LIRA:

[Speaking Spanish] Junior! Say hello to your grandma, Junior. Wait. Can you see Junior, or not?

AURORA

Zully's mother in Guatemala

AURORA [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] Junior? Yes. He’s at the door.

LUCIANA LIRA:

They’re coming now.

[Speaking Spanish] Your daughter is getting out. [Laughs]

Ah, Zully! Your mommy is here, Zully. Your family, your son.

[Speaking English] Welcome home! Bienvenida, Zully.

MARVIN:

[Speaking Spanish] I thought I would never see her again. And I was like, "God, don’t do this to me. What will I do with my two sons, a newborn and I’m infected?"

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] When I arrived home I felt very happy that I was able to see Junior again, and my husband, Marvin.

MALE AMBULANCE STAFF:

Good? You guys OK?

MARVIN:

Thank you, guys. Thank you.

MALE AMBULANCE STAFF:

You're welcome.

ZULLY:

Neysel wasn’t with us yet because I was still positive with the coronavirus. And my husband, Marvin, and Junior were, too.

JUNIOR:

[Speaking Spanish] Mama is home.

AURORA [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] How beautiful that she is home.

LUCIANA LIRA:

Ready? [Singing] Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, Baby Neysel. Happy birthday to you!

[Speaking Spanish] Zully, look at your son. Look who is here, in his first month of life. He is 1 month old, Aurora.

AURORA [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] A little kiss for Neysel.

ZULLY [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] I wanted to say, my son just turned a month and may God bless him and bless you.

We wanted Neysel to be with us. But he couldn’t because there was a risk that we could infect him with the coronavirus.

LUCIANA LIRA:

Bye, guys!

LUCIANA'S HUSBAND:

[Speaking Spanish] Bye!

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] Before the pandemic, our life was very different. We were happy. But with the pandemic, everything changed. Marvin worked in a restaurant. I had been taking care of my son, Junior.

But with the pandemic, everything was much harder. For our protection, we couldn't go out.

Marvin lost his job. During that same time I became sick. It started as a cold, so I never thought I would be COVID-19 positive since I hadn’t left the house.

MARVIN:

[Speaking Spanish] Here we are going to the clinic. God willing, everything will be OK.

FEMALE NURSE:

OK, ready?

MARVIN:

[Speaking Spanish] I want all the tests to come back negative.

FEMALE NURSE:

OK, all set.

MARVIN:

[Speaking Spanish] Because I want my son by my side, a 1-month-old. I can’t hug him, kiss him.

FEMALE NURSE:

OK, let me try.

MARVIN:

[Speaking Spanish] If no one had helped us on this path, we wouldn’t have made it. Because in this situation, without insurance, without money, you die.

You have to be brave, my love.

I don’t want to pass it on to other people. And I don’t wish this upon anybody. This is no game.

FEMALE VOICE ON PHONE:

Thank you for holding. Your call is very important to us.

OK, you had two tests done. And one was the nasal and the other one was the blood work. The nasal swab came back. The swab is positive.

MARVIN:

And Junior’s?

FEMALE VOICE ON PHONE:

Junior is the same also.

MARVIN:

[Speaking Spanish] Oh, my God. Be calm.

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] I thought Marvin and Junior would test negative so that my son could be here. I can’t stand all this.

MARVIN:

[Speaking Spanish] Don’t be like that. God willing, everything will be all right.

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] When are we going to have our baby here? This is tormenting me.

Sometimes I tell him, "Marvin, I only came to the United States to die." Sometimes he says, "I didn’t even see my son when they took him out." I tell him, "Yes, but at least you saw him from afar. I didn’t even see him when they took him out of me." Perhaps that’s what keeps me up at night and gives me nightmares, what I saw when I was in a coma. Oh, my God.

CATALINA SAMPER-HORAK:

The whole testing was so complicated and so convoluted. And I think this is just so typical of the challenges that you'd face when you have a language barrier, where you have a cultural barrier, when you are scared.

We are very, very hopeful that her rapid fast test results, in an hour and a half they will give us a call.

[On phone, speaking Spanish] Marvin, are you listening?

MARVIN:

[Speaking Spanish] Yes.

CATALINA SAMPER-HORAK [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] Good news, Zully. Your result is negative. Wow, that’s negative! I'm so happy for you.

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] Thank you.

CATALINA SAMPER-HORAK [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] Bye.

JUNIOR:

Yes!

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] I won the battle.

MARVIN:

[Speaking Spanish] I feel happy because I know that very soon our son will be here with us.

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] Marvin and Junior took the test again. We waited a few days. They called us and told us that the results came back negative.

LUCIANA LIRA:

I know, this is so hard. And today’s going to be a very special day because you’re going to meet your mommy and your daddy and your brother. [Laughs] I love when he does that! It's like I was his mommy for the last 5 1/2 weeks. And I gave him as much love as I would give to my own son.

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] I feel so excited and happy that Neysel is coming home. My heart is beating like this from the excitement over getting to see him for the first time.

LUCIANA LIRA:

So, this is a mess right now because we’re trying to pack everything for Zully. There’s some extra donated milk, his little stroller.

CATALINA SAMPER-HORAK:

[Speaking Spanish] You’ll take these, Junior. Take them to my car.

MARVIN:

[Speaking Spanish] I always wanted to give him a better life because in Guatemala, I couldn’t give it to him. But now that God has given me opportunity here, I'll keep fighting so he can be an important person.

LUCIANA LIRA:

Oh, there's diapers and—oh, my God, OK. Bye, baby.

Oh, my God! [Speaking Spanish] Look at your son, Zully. Look at your son, Zully. [Cries] Look at your son—hey, Junior. A hug, lady.

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] Thank you.

LUCIANA LIRA:

[Speaking Spanish] Ah, how pretty Mommy is.

Hello, Aurora. I have something that's very important.

AURORA [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] Oh, yeah?

LUCIANA LIRA:

[Speaking Spanish] Are you ready?

AURORA [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] Look at the baby!

LUCIANA LIRA:

[Speaking Spanish] Your daughter with your grandson, Aurora.

AURORA [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] Oh, yes.

LUCIANA LIRA:

[Speaking Spanish] Look at this, finally.

AURORA [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] How do you feel, Mommy?

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] Happy, Mom.

LUCIANA LIRA:

[Speaking Spanish] We would like to pray. Do you have a minute to pray with us?

AURORA [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] OK, in this moment, I ask that God bless Zully, Marvin, Junior and especially Miss Lira.

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] I felt such happiness because since I first started feeling sick, my mother never left me. She always kept me in her prayers.

AURORA [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] Bless our home, as we continue to fight, asking God to protect us, this country of Guatemala, because this pandemic has arrived in our home. Thank you, holy Father, amen.

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] It was a wonderful day.

ONE MONTH LATER

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] I never imagined that this would happen to my mother.

AURORA [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] Hello?

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] Mom? Can you talk or not? Do you feel OK, or not?

AURORA [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] My bones ache, fever, headache. It’s hard to breathe. Symptoms of COVID.

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] I love you very much, Mom. You are going to be OK, you hear me? You are going to be OK. God is with you, you hear me? You have to stay with us.

I’ll call you later, OK? So you can rest a little bit.

AURORA [on phone]:

[Speaking Spanish] Bye.

ZULLY:

[Speaking Spanish] Oh, my God. It’s a nightmare, my God.

I think about many things. We don’t understand why we got the coronavirus. My husband, my son, my older brother, the younger one, my mother, my stepfather, sister-in-law and my niece.

That’s how life goes. Maybe there are people who lost their entire families, but at least we are alive. Maybe if I'd been in Guatemala I wouldn't have gotten better and I wouldn’t be telling this story. Thank God that at this moment we are all well.

AFTER 15 DAYS IN THE HOSPITAL, ZULLY’S MOTHER RECOVERED.

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