Meet the Hernandez-Zelaya Family

Baby photo | Meet the Hernandez-Zelaya Family

“There were days that I fell down crying seeing all of the things he was going through.” No mother wants to see her baby fighting for his life. It was an emotional journey for Elijah’s mother Rosa, but after 173 days of ups and downs, Elijah finally went home.

Born as a micro preemie at just 23 weeks, Elijah came into the world with an enduring spirit and with parents, Rosa and Keysler, who were willing to do anything for him.

They were at Elijah’s bedside at every possible hour in those early, uncertain days when he required many medications, machines and tubes to help him breath and eat. Rosa began the exhausting routine of pumping every three hours through the night and she and Keysler took turns delivering the breast milk to the hospital. They also alternated being with Elijah since only one parent could visit due to COVID restrictions, at that time. These daily trips to the hospital were costly so ICU baby helped by giving them gas stipends to absorb some costs.

Elijah | ICU baby's Family StoriesDuring this time, Rosa longed to hold her son and finally after more than a month after he was born, she held him for the first time. “It was amazing. It was a feeling that I was waiting for, for a long, long time”. When Elijah was more stable, Rosa and Keysler did “Kangaroo” or skin-to-skin care every time they were with him. Elijah made it through these critical care days and began to recover and mature.

As the weeks went on, Rosa and Keysler had to go back to work and balance caring for their two older children. Dividing their time was difficult, but they had great trust and confidence in their nurses and the doctors. “They were caring for my son like he was their own. They were fighting for him along with us.”

This trust in their medical team proved crucial when the family came down with COVID and weren’t able to visit Elijah in the NICU for two weeks. The nurses went out of their way to help Rosa and Keysler stay connected with Elijah, through phone calls and photos.. Rosa said this care, along with ICU baby’s parent-to-parent support, made a difference. “I will never forget that.”

Elijah’s NICU journey was more stable after the first few months, but he continued to have complications that prevented him from going home. Infections, reflux, difficulty feeding and surgeries were the cause of some of Elijah’s delays. “As much as I wanted to have Elijah home I knew the best place for him to be was there where he was safe. They know what to do with him and how to care for him,” Rosa said, “I would be mad at the beginning but I would just pray and trust my faith. I would rather have these things happen when he is there (in the NICU) where they could care for (his medical needs) than at home.”

Rosa’s prayers were answered when after nearly 6 months, Rosa and Keysler were able to bring Elijah home to meet his big brother and sister. Now that her NICU journey is over, Rosa wants to share her experience with other NICU families. “In the beginning of the journey everything is on top of you. You may feel that you are climbing a mountain that will never end but little by little the more faith and trust you have in yourself, your baby and God you will see your strength to climb the mountain in the blink of an eye. Having a baby in the NICU is new and is hard and they (the medical team and ICU baby) are there to help prepare you to care for your baby. This is a unique experience that I never thought I would have in my life. Now that I know and can look back I am so grateful because I know what it is to have a premature baby and what it takes.”