Julie and Jaad Chehab of Lawrence were looking forward to a wonderful new beginning in 2021, with their first baby due at the end of January. However, as the number of COVID-19 cases began to rise in Massachusetts and no vaccine available at the time, their excitement turned to concern when Jaad received a call from work.
“A co-worker had tested positive, and I had an exposure. Sure enough, the following day I tested positive,” said Jaad. “Luckily, my symptoms were really mild and it just felt like a cold.”
A few days later, Julie came down with a fever and felt achy. Since she woke up the next day feeling fine, she thought it might have been a quick 24-hour bug, but her COVID-19 test came back positive. Later that night, they were both taken by surprise when Julie’s water broke.
“We both couldn’t believe it was happening, and worried as our baby wasn’t due for 7 more weeks. It was a really scary and emotional time,” said Julie.
She said the staff at The Birthplace at Lowell General Hospital made her feel safe and confident that they could provide the extra level of care her premature baby would need. Later that evening, on December 16, little J.J. was born at 5 pounds, 5 ounces and 19 inches long.
“The whole care team was just wonderful; they explained how my delivery was going to happen, and the precautions that needed to be taken to protect our son,” Julie remembered. “It was an extremely difficult situation but they made it the best experience possible.”
In partnership with Tufts Children’s Hospital, Lowell General Hospital provides a Level IIB Special Care Nursery that gives comprehensive, multidisciplinary care to infants born prematurely up to 32 weeks, as well as infants with feeding difficulties and other medical issues requiring close monitoring and assessment.
Dr. Mario Cordova, Medical Director of the Special Care Nursery, noted that despite his early age, J.J. did incredibly well with feeding and gaining weight.
“For premature infants, we can supply adequate nutrition through a feeding tube and give IV fluids and medications as necessary. We also tend to see more respiratory immaturity, especially in boys with some of them requiring supplemental oxygen, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), and constant cardio-respiratory monitoring until their breathing control matures.”
The ability to receive this level of care close to home was a blessing for the Chehab family. Since Jaad was off quarantine earlier than Julie, he was able to use her breast milk to feed J.J., since data has shown COVID-19 is not transferred through breast milk. Julie was able to virtually be part of feedings through Zoom at home, and participate in daily meetings so Dr. Cordova could keep her updated on J.J.’s progress.
In what seemed like a lifetime, the new mom finally was able to come in and hold her baby for the first time on Christmas Eve. Staff in the Special Care Nursery made J.J. a special Christmas outfit and cheered her on as she held her baby for the first time.
“I was so worried that he wouldn’t know who I was,” said Julie, holding back tears. “The whole team on the unit celebrated our first time together as a family. This birth experience was not what we expected, but having all that care and support behind us made all the difference.”