A mother’s plea

Hen­rico mom with baby in NICU urges peo­ple to use so­cial dis­tanc­ing.

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY BRID­GET BALCH Richmond Times-Dis­patch bbalch@timesdis­patch.com (804) 649-6601 Twit­ter: @brid­get­balch

Over the past nine months, Me­lena Davis has spent more time at the hos­pi­tal than home.

She only leaves her 9-month-old daugh­ter, Kaia, once a day to make the 20-minute drive to her home in Hen­rico to shower and eat.

The rest of the day, Davis holds Kaia and reads to her as a ven­ti­la­tor pumps air into the baby’s lungs through the tube in her neck. She sleeps on a pull-out sofa in the Neona­tal In­ten­sive Care Unit at VCU Med­i­cal Cen­ter to be with her at night.

But now, when­ever Davis leaves Kaia’s side, she’s afraid. She wor­ries that walk­ing too closely to some­one in the hos­pi­tal hall­ways or the park­ing lot could ex­pose her to the novel coro­n­avirus, mak­ing her a po­ten­tial car­rier to Kaia and the other ba­bies in the NICU.

Kaia, who has a ge­netic dis­or­der and a con­gen­i­tal heart de­fect that ob­structs her breath­ing, has been par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to viruses for as long as she’s been alive.

Last week, state and lo­cal of­fi­cials banned large gath­er­ings and urged peo­ple to keep 6 feet away from oth­ers in an at­tempt to pre­vent the spread of the coro­n­avirus that has in­fected more than half a mil­lion peo­ple and killed more than 23,500 world­wide as of Thurs­day af­ter­noon, ac­cord­ing to Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity. Davis was dis­tressed that some healthy peo­ple seemed not to be tak­ing pub­lic health ad­vi­sories se­ri­ously.

She saw friends and ac­quain­tances post­ing about trav­el­ing un­nec­es­sar­ily and hoard­ing sup­plies. In the days since then, Gov. Ralph Northam and Richmond Mayor Le­var Stoney have tight­ened re­stric­tions and gath­er­ings and scolded peo­ple for con­gre­gat­ing.

Last Fri­day, Davis de­cided to post to her Face­book and In­sta­gram pages.

“Plead­ing with ev­ery­one to PLEASE take this pan­demic se­ri­ously! Not to panic about it, but just use com­mon sense and don’t think you are above this virus. It may not af­fect you di­rectly, you may be for­tu­nate with healthy lungs to over­come it BUT that’s not the case for ev­ery­one. Ba­bies

and the el­derly with com­pro­mised lungs are re­ally at risk!” Davis wrote. “Kaia is here at VCU, and I am here ev­ery day with her. I CAN­NOT af­ford some­thing like this to hap­pen. If my daugh­ter even catches a cold, it could send her into a coma (not ex­ag­ger­at­ing) with some life sup­port mea­sures not pos­si­ble as she’s al­ready been there, done that.”

While the Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion say that ev­i­dence shows that chil­dren, in gen­eral, are not at higher risk of se­ri­ous ill­ness than adults as a re­sult of COVID-19, it says that peo­ple of all ages with se­vere, chronic med­i­cal con­di­tions are.

Kaia, who was born more than two months pre­ma­ture on June 10, has a ge­netic dis­or­der called Noo­nan syn­drome that pre­vents nor­mal de­vel­op­ment. Her heart is un­usu­ally thick, caus­ing it to press up against her left lung and mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for her to breathe on her own. She re­lies on a ven­ti­la­tor and a breath­ing tube in her neck to sur­vive.

Across the coun­try, ex­perts fear that there will be an ex­treme short­age of ven­ti­la­tors as more and more COVID-19 pa­tients with se­vere symp­toms need them.

Davis said that she and her fam­ily have been tak­ing ex­tra pre­cau­tions to pro­tect Kaia from germs since be­fore the coro­n­avirus was a con­cern be­cause Kaia’s im­mune sys­tem is eas­ily com­pro­mised.

The Davis fam­ily has been even more care­ful as VCU Med­i­cal Cen­ter and other hos­pi­tals have tight­ened re­stric­tions on hos­pi­tal visi­tors to pre­vent spread­ing in­fec­tions within the hos­pi­tals.

Kaia’s dad still comes to visit, but other fam­ily mem­bers — in­clud­ing Kaia’s grand­mother and 9-year-old brother — are no longer com­ing to the hos­pi­tal. Kaia’s brother is stay­ing with Davis’ mother, who lives in Richmond.

“It’s my para­noia, not want­ing any­body in here with her,” Davis said. “That has def­i­nitely af­fected our fam­ily dy­namic.”

Davis had been hop­ing to bring her daugh­ter home soon. But for now, she feels safer with the health care work­ers at VCU Med­i­cal Cen­ter, even as she knows the hos­pi­tal is treat­ing COVID-19 pa­tients in a dif­fer­ent area — iso­lated from other pa­tients.

She said that she re­ceived a lot of pos­i­tive replies and sup­port on so­cial me­dia in re­sponse to her post, which was shared dozens of times.

Davis hopes her mes­sage will en­cour­age peo­ple who can stay home — a lux­ury that she and Kaia don’t have — to do so.

“If I could bring my baby home and stay in­side my house,” she said. “I would do it in a heart­beat.”

ME­LENA DAVIS

Me­lena Davis’ daugh­ter, Kaia, was born 10 weeks pre­ma­ture and has a ge­netic dis­or­der that im­pacts her lungs. Kaia is be­ing treated at VCU Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

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