BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Lesly Checo’s life changed on March 6, 2014, when, in the 35th week of her pregnancy, she was rushed into an emergency C-section since her baby was not moving enough and her blood pressure was rising.
Baby Elias was born at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center with a number of issues, including brain bleeding, hip dysplasia, rocker-bottom feet and having suffered a stroke. Since Wyckoff did not have the equipment Elias needed, he was transferred to Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Westchester County. It wasn’t until May 5, 2014, that he was transferred to St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children.
When Checo arrived, St. Mary’s showed her how to care for Elias. From May through July, Elias received treatment at St. Mary’s and was given an orogastric feeding tube (OG-tube).
On July 30, Checo was allowed to take Elias home. Two weeks later, Elias’ sugar dropped and he was taken to Maria Fareri. He had a gastrostomy (G) tube implanted and was sent home a week later.
While home, Elias received care from St. Mary’s physicians, who helped to feed and care for him and allowed Checo to get chores done.
That December, Elias began to have trouble breathing. He was sent to a number of hospitals before returning to St. Mary’s, where he was provided a nasal cannula. He was finally allowed to go home in January 2015.
Elias had a full year of stability at home with the nasal cannula. On Jan. 15, 2016, he became so sick that he was put into a coma for a month because he had to be intubated. Although Elias was taken out of the coma and underwent surgery on March 1, 2016, to receive a trach, he needed further monitoring, so staff at Maria Ferari recommended that Checo send him to a rehab facility in Westchester. Since Checo had left St. Mary’s impressed by its services and compassion, she chose to take Elias back there, where he remains today.
Elias’ day begins between 6 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., with Activities of Daily Living (ADL), which includes a bath, nail care, dressing and eating.
Following ADL, Elias receives medication administration, during which his nurses check his vitals and ensure that he’s doing well. From 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., Elias receives Rehabilitation Nurse Technician (RNT) services. For socialization, he partakes in group time in the great room from 10:30 a.m. to noon. In this room, he not only interacts with other St. Mary’s children, but can also listen to music, play instruments, or take part in arts and crafts.
“The staff is amazing,” Checo concluded. “They really care for these children.”
Linda Ruggiero, 34, is the mother of 13-month-old Ashley. Unlike Elias, Ashley receives at-home services through St. Mary’s Home Care program, which are provided five days a week.
Ruggiero gave birth to Ashley at 34 weeks via emergency C-section.
A few months after, Ashley suffered a stroke, which caused right-side weakness that needed to be treated by rehabilitation. She also had a feeding disorder since birth. St. Mary’s was the only rehabilitation facility with an open bed for Ashley.
“The services were immediately wonderful,” said Ruggiero.
Ashley continued to receive treatment at St. Mary’s for five months, enabling the staff to work on promoting her use of her right side and inserting a G-tube so she would eat.
Said Ruggiero, “I would spend hours in the hospital with Ashley….It was reassuring each time I went back and saw how the staff interacted with her and to see the progress.”
During Ashley’s months at St. Mary’s, Ruggiero saw immediate improvements.
Although Ashley was able to go home several months later, St. Mary’s provided home care aides to continue with Ashley’s rehabilitation.
The Queens Tribune spent the day with Ruggiero and Ashley. During a period of five hours, Ashley received visits from her speech and occupational therapists.
Giuseppina Amari, an occupational therapist (OT) for the St. Mary’s Care at Home program, visits Ashley two to three times per week. Amari focuses on Ashley’s sensory issues, which she attributes to her being born early and via C-section.
“When you’re born early, you don’t have that same sensory ability in your body that you would if you were born on your due date,” said Amari. “She was also a C-section baby, so she didn’t get that one-on-one, body-to-body.”
Amari said that as a result of this, it was a struggle getting Ashley dressed, wiping her face, giving her a bath and doing anything else involving touch. In addition, due to the stroke, Ashley suffers from tightness on the right side. To work on all of these issues, Amari massages and stretches Ashley’s right arm and leg to relieve the tightness and show Ashley that that part of her body exists.
“In the beginning, I couldn’t touch her face, couldn’t put food in her mouth, but now she’s progressed so much,” said Amari.
During Ashley’s OT session with Amari, the Queens Tribune watched as Amari and Ruggiero took Ashley to her nursery and interacted with her via toys. Ruggiero said that Ashley learns new things through this activity—and so does her mother.
Amari brought some of Ashley’s favorite toys to her and watched how she reacted. When Ashley touched them with her left hand, Amari brought her right hand to her. Amari also massaged Ashley’s arms and fingers.
Due to Ashley’s eating disorder and the G-tube, the girl was connected to the machine during the entire session. However, after four hours of receiving food through the tube, it was finished. She was taken off the tube in time for her speech therapist.
Jenna Capozzi, a clinical fellow and speech-language pathologist with St. Mary’s, focuses on listening for new sounds Ashley mades as well as assisting Ruggiero with helping Ashley take food into her mouth and swallow.
Capozzi began by pulling out toys and listening for sounds that Ashley made while playing. For about 45 minutes she interacted with her, while Ruggiero responded to text messages and phone calls from Ashley’s other therapists and caretakers. Ruggiero then prepared baby food for Capozzi to try to get Ashley to consume.
When Capozzi first brought the spoon to Ashley’s mouth, she accepted it. However, she held it in her mouth. Capozzi then began to softly stroke the bottom of Ashley’s jaw line, which prompted Ashley to slowly lift her tongue and swallow the food as she continued to play with the toys in front of her.
According to Ruggiero, though Ashley’s condition can be overwhelming, St. Mary’s strong support system has been invaluable.