Rotorua Daily Post

The fight continues for mother, son

Forced apart when Covid began, these two remain as strong as ever

- Cira Olivier

Resilience, strength and bravery. These are some of the qualities Rotorua mum Stacey Brell has mastered after working through the hardest decision she ever had to make — during the first Covid lockdown three years ago.

When New Zealand was plunged into that snap lockdown, Brell had to leave her eight-weekold premature baby boy in the hospital, so she could care for her other children, while her partner had to work.

Today, her little boy, Armanijohn Selwyn, is still proving himself a warrior.

On March 19, 2020, the region had its first case of Covid-19 in Rotorua.

Three days later, there was a case in Tauranga.

The alert level system was introduced on March 21 and by 11.59pm on March 25, the country was in lockdown.

Everyone was instructed to stay home in their “bubble” unless they were essential workers or needed to leave for essential reasons.

Covid-19 shook the health sector and as new informatio­n flooded in, and stress and anxiety about the new virus increased in the essential sector.

Hospitals implemente­d novisitor policies and created Covid19 wards. Movement within hospitals was controlled, and nonclinica­l staff worked from home.

Brell learned she had to choose between staying in Rotorua Hospital to care for Armani-john, or remain in Covid-19 isolation at home with the rest of her family.

Armani-john was born on January 30, 2020, 15 weeks early and weighed 952 grams.

He spent two months fighting for his life in Waikato Hospital’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit with his mum by his side, before being moved to Rotorua Hospital.

A day later, the country went into lockdown.

Brell’s partner, an essential worker, was on call and there was no one else to look after their three other children, aged between 18 months and 11 years.

For two weeks, the only interactio­n Brell had with her newborn son was photos, and talking and reading to him via video call with the help of “amazing” nurses.

On top of the heartache of the separation, she remembered the difficulty of missing out on a lot of firsts, the things that strengthen the bond between mother and child: bath time, feeding, and changing nappies.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” she said.

After two weeks, she was allowed to go into the hospital once a day to start breastfeed­ing and connecting with her son again.

She savoured the few hours with him every evening, once her youngest daughter was asleep.

On April 27, 2020, the country moved to alert level 3, which still meant heavy restrictio­ns.

Armani-john was discharged on May 3, and 10 days later, the country moved to alert level 2.

On June 8, the country moved to Alert Level 1.

Brell said it was “really good” to have the family together again for the children to meet their youngest brother. “It finally felt like our family was together and our family

Left: Armani-john in hospital during lockdown.

was complete.”

However, the road since then has not been smooth, with the first 18 months of Armani-john’s life mostly spent in the hospital as he battled low immunity and chronic lung disease.

The past few years have been filled with intensive care unit stays, ambulance journeys, and calls for support from loved ones to help with the other children.

Though Armani-john has already been to the hospital three times this year, he is getting stronger with age, and the trips are less frequent. “It’s going really well at the moment.”

Brell said as “heartbreak­ing” as the first lockdown was, it strengthen­ed the bond between her and her partner, who had to lean on each other for everything from emotional support to sharing the load. She said all the challenges also made her stronger emotionall­y.

For the next year and a bit, the country would move between different restrictio­n levels, until the country went into another lockdown on August 17, 2021, for two weeks.

The Bay of Plenty managed to avoid the extended tight alert level 3 restrictio­ns that mainly affected Auckland for much of the remainder of 2021.

December 2, 2021 marked the end of the alert system, and the country moved to the Covid-19 Protection Framework, also known as the traffic light system.

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 ?? PHOTO / ANDREW WARNER ?? Stacey Brell and her son, Armani-john Selwyn.
PHOTO / ANDREW WARNER Stacey Brell and her son, Armani-john Selwyn.
 ?? ?? Rotorua mother Stacey Brell with her premature son, Armani-john Selwyn, in 2020.
Rotorua mother Stacey Brell with her premature son, Armani-john Selwyn, in 2020.

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