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Infant daughter of FDNY firefighter got better before COVID-19 cruelly changed course

Posted at 8:57 AM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 09:02:32-04

NEW YORK CITY — Jay-Natalie LaSanta, who battled cardiac problems from the moment she was born, was actually winning her month-long battle against COVID-19 last weekend.

She was supposed to turn 5 months old on April 27.

Her father Jerel — an FNDY firefighter — and her mother, Lindsey, were hopeful she'd recover after an encouraging conference with doctors and social workers at Montefiore Children's Hospital.

"Three days prior to it happening, her lungs were the clearest I ever saw them," Jerel LaSanta said. "They said by June; she could be coming home."

But the virus had other ideas.

"They got filled up with fluids again," her father noted of Jay-Natalie's lungs.

And Jay-Natalie — whose name was derived from her parents' middle names — lost her fight against COVID-19 this Monday.

"When she was born, she had to fight," her father said. "She fought all the way to the end."

On March 20, Jerel LaSanta was starting his first, 24-hour shift as an FDNY firefighter. He had his cell phone shut off.

When his shift ended the next day, he received an urgent message that his wife and baby daughter were at Montefiore's pediatric emergency room.

Lindsey LaSanta said her firstborn developed a fever overnight. The fever briefly dropped with a dose of Tylenol and a damp cloth to the baby's forehead, but Jay-Natalie started shivering with chills the next morning, so her mother brought her to the E/R.

The baby initially tested negative for COVID-19, but the test was a false negative. A week later, the result was positive.

As her breathing got worse, the doctors intubated her April 4.

Her parents said Jay-Natalie's lungs were getting better, but the ventilator took a toll on the baby's body.

"The longer she stayed on the ventilator, the more damage it did to her heart," Jerel LaSanta said.

One parent always stayed with Jay-Natalie for the month she remained in the hospital.

Jerel took the 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. shift, and Lindsey was there overnight, from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m.

Jerel LaSanta called his daughter "Bubala." His wife called her "Warrior Princess" because of the baby's fighting spirit.

"I was looking at her one day, and I said, 'You're not sick. You're a Warrior Princess,'" she said. "'You got this.'"

But on Monday, Jerel LaSanta placed an urgent call to his wife.

"He said, 'Hurry up and get here! She doesn't have a pulse,'" the baby's mother said.

She said she raced to the hospital in her pajamas and found nurses working on the baby.

"I got to read her a book called Love, and I got to say a prayer with her, and I gave her a kiss," Lindsey LaSanta said. "We had the privilege of bathing her. We dressed her, and she was carried out in a casket."

Jerel LaSanta said his new FDNY colleagues arrived at the hospital to show respect.

"My firehouse came, and they waited," LaSanta said. "Trucks lined up, flashing lights, and everyone stood with hands to heart for a moment of silence."

"It meant so much to me," LaSanta said.

Jay-Natalie's mom looks back now and remembers her baby was usually so serious. But that changed when she arrived at the hospital.

"She was smiling at a nurse she never met before. She was happy!" Lindsey LaSanta said.

A month later, Jerel and Lindsey LaSanta lost their first child.

The family has scheduled a virtual funeral for May 2, and family members have set up a GoFundMe page to cover medical expenses.

This story was originally published by Mary Murphy on WPIX in New York.

Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering