THE BRONX — Tiny 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 FDNY father, Jerel, and 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 told PIX11. “They said by June, she could be coming home.”
But the cruel virus had other ideas.
“They got filled up with fluids again,” her father noted of Jay-Natalie’s lungs.
And Jay-Natalie—who got her distinctive moniker 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.”
Back 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 recalled 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 it 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 told PIX11.
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.
The baby’s father showed PIX11 how he used to lovingly stroke the baby’s face, from her forehead down along her nose.
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 remembered. “We had the privilege of bathing her. We dressed her, and she was carried out in a casket.”
Jerel LaSanta told PIX11 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 always alert.
Then, when she got to the hospital that final time, “She was smiling at a nurse she never met before. She was happy!”
A month later, Jerel and Lindsey LaSanta lost their first child.
A virtual funeral is being planned for May 2 and family members have set up a GoFundMe page to cover medical expenses.
“To find solace in things, I told her father, I said, ‘I think we were on borrowed time. I think because of the health issues she had, I think God decided to give us some time and let us enjoy her and see how amazing she was.’”