The baby in her care was only days old when neonatal intensive care unit nurse Meghan Borkowicz witnessed his father sit near him, and sob for hours.

“That moment, I will never forget,” Borkowicz says on a recent evening. “It was probably the second day of life for Dylan, and Wilian was down in the NICU and he couldn’t stop crying. My heart just broke for him. He had this baby who was pretty sick, and then he had his wife and he didn’t know if she was going to live to see her baby.”

Nurses don’t always remember the names of all their patients’ family members. To expect them to do so, when so many people pass through their care, is an unreasonable ask. But this family — Wilian Molina, his partner Maria Roque-Diaz and their baby Dylan — occupies a unique place in the lives of the staff at the University of Maryland Medical Center and the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital.

More than 100 medical professionals who came in contact with the family fought for months to counter one of the cruelest aspects of the coronavirus: its penchant for trying to take the lives of those who are trying to bring life into the world.

“In a tragic paradox, those who are pregnant are simultaneously more likely to experience severe illness and death from covid-19 and less likely to get the shot capable of preventing such suffering,” my colleague Brittany Shammas wrote in an article earlier this month.

The article tells the story of Paige Ruiz, a 32-year-old mother of two who died of covid complications days after giving birth to a baby girl she would never get to hold.

The piece details the inconsistent information pregnant people have received about the coronavirus vaccine and shows grieving relatives joining medical professionals in encouraging others to get vaccinated. Ruiz, who had planned to get vaccinated after she gave birth, spent her final days urging others not to wait.

A CDC health advisory released late last month warns that compared with nonpregnant symptomatic people, “symptomatic pregnant people have more than a twofold increased risk of requiring ICU admission, invasive ventilation, and ECMO, and a 70% increased risk of death.”

“Pregnant people with COVID-19 are also at increased risk for preterm birth and some data suggest an increased risk for other adverse pregnancy complications and outcomes, such as preeclampsia, coagulopathy, and stillbirth, compared with pregnant people without COVID-19,” it reads.

Sarah Crimmins, an OB/GYN who specializes in complex maternal care, says that while the vaccine has worked to reduce hospitalizations among the young and healthy in the United States, the low vaccination rate among pregnant people has not allowed her to see that same decline among her patients.

She was seeing unvaccinated expectant parents become hospitalized at the beginning of the pandemic and she is still seeing that.

Crimmins is the doctor who delivered Dylan and she describes his family’s experience as “harrowing.”

She recalls the first time she met Maria, who caught the coronavirus last November, before the vaccines became available to the public. Pregnant with her second son, she arrived at the University of Maryland Medical Center from another hospital already intubated with a breathing tube. Crimmins says that because Maria’s lungs were not providing enough oxygen to her and Dylan, she was placed on ECMO, a life-supporting measure that oxygenates the blood outside of the body.

“She was extremely sick and we were using the maximum efforts of our entire team to give her the best chance at survival,” Crimmins says. “There were definitely days where we were very concerned she wasn’t going to survive.”

Maria was unconscious and still relying on the ECMO machine when Dylan was delivered through a Caesarean section. Born at 32 weeks, he weighed five pounds.

“Every time a baby cries, I always breathe a sigh of relief,” Crimmins says. “Then there’s the moment when you turn to the parent and say, ‘Your baby is beautiful.’ And obviously in this situation we couldn’t do that.”

Wilian says Maria didn’t know she had delivered the baby. She had been in and out of consciousness for more than a month, unaware of much of what was happening around her. She was unaware of how her toddler was spending his days. She was unaware that her newborn shared his older brother’s straight, dark hair. She was unaware that Wilian was trying hard to stay positive, even as he put his savings toward their bills and his days visiting a newborn he worried he might have to raise alone.

He recalls that day Borkowicz saw him cry in the NICU.

“I was thinking, ‘What if she does not survive?’ ” he says. “It would be hard for me because my kids need to see their mommy and a mommy needs to see her baby grow. I was thinking covid is not a game. It can kill people.”

Borkowicz, who was the nurse assigned to care for Dylan, describes what happened next as “a miracle.” She uses that word three times as we talk, sounding in awe with each utterance.

As she tells it, the NICU received a call from the team caring for Maria, asking that a nurse bring Dylan to her room in the intensive care unit. The staff feared she might not survive much longer and wanted the two to have skin-to-skin contact. The staff planned to take photos of the moment for the family, since hospital restrictions at the time limited visitation.

Borkowicz took Dylan that day, and again in the days that followed. Every day, no matter who was on duty, Dylan was brought into his mom’s room and placed against her, so that she could feel him and he could feel her.

During that first visit, Borkowicz says, Maria was awake but not fully conscious. She couldn’t turn her head to look at him.

But within 10 days, she says, Maria was sitting up and feeding her son.

“It’s like her body just knew she needed to fight for her baby,” Borkowicz says. “I honestly have never witnessed anything like that before.”

Before Dylan was discharged from the hospital earlier this year, Borkowicz bought him an outfit with suspenders and a red bow tie for a special event the staff held for him and his parents: a baby shower.

That day, a staff member took Maria for a walk as others decorated her hospital room, filled it with presents, and ushered in Wilian and Dylan. A photo captures the moment Maria saw the surprise. In it, she holds a hand to her chest and cries.

The photo doesn’t show it, but around her, staff members also let tears fall, aware they were watching a happy ending at a time when too many similar stories held devastating ones.

Wilian and Maria, who live near Baltimore, say they are grateful to the staff for all they did. They say Dylan is doing well, and after losing their jobs and savings to the pandemic, Wilian is now working as a landscaper and Maria as a dishwasher.

The two are also now vaccinated, and, like those other parents who have been shoved by the coronavirus to the edge of grief or deep into it, they hope to see more people get their shots.

“Please,” Maria says in Spanish. “It can save your life, and the life of other people.”

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