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‘She stopped breathing’: Calgary family urges caution after newborn contracts COVID-19

Calgary newborn Nora Forrest spent four days in the intensive care unit after contracting COVID-19 . Supplied

By all measures, Ceyda Forrest’s pregnancy had been an easy one.

“We were being very cocky saying, ‘Oh, baby, this is such an easy one,’ the pregnancy was good and then the birth, she was 40 weeks and three days, so three days late she was,” the Calgary woman said.

Little Nora was born on Nov. 22 at Calgary’s Rockyview hospital. She was so healthy that her parents took her home within hours of delivery. Thirty-six hours later, however, Forrest was feeling unwell.

“I woke up with symptoms like a little bit of fever and a runny nose and my sinuses… my eyes were puffing out.”

Read more: 'Tremendous cost' — Coronavirus hospitalizations soar as vaccine raises hope

At first, Forrest believed she had a cold. Within days, the entire family had symptoms but little Nora’s were the most severe.

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“She had a fever and it wasn’t getting better so we rushed her to hospital and I’m glad we did right away,” said Forrest.

Nora’s oxygen levels were so low, the five-day-old was admitted right away to the intensive care unit at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

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“We just thought we’ll go in and they’re going to give her Tylenol and send her home but that wasn’t the case. They rushed her in and suddenly 10 people showed up in the room and they were poking her, checking everything asking what’s going on and then she stopped breathing.”

The Forrests watched as doctors worked to determine what was making their daughter so sick.

“Basically they treated her like she could have been infected with any kind of bacterial or viral infection.  They started doing blood work and urine work and a lumbar puncture to rule out meningitis,” Nora’s father, Ben Forrest, said. “Everything came back negative, except for COVID-19.”

Read more: A glimpse inside an Edmonton ICU full of COVID-19 patients

Most children infected with the coronavirus have only mild symptoms but a small number in Canada have become seriously ill. According to data posted by the Public Health Agency of Canada, there have been three COVID-19-related deaths among people aged 19 or under in this country as of Dec. 15, while 422 people in this age group have been hospitalized, including 57, who have required intensive care.

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“Similar to adults, there are children who are at increased risk of severe illness,” said Dr. Jim Kellner, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the University of Calgary. “Definitely young infants is a group where there’s a risk of them ending up in an intensive care unit and potentially longer-term consequences of COVID.”

Unfortunately, Kellner says, there is little data available on what the long-term impact of COVID-19 might be for children like Nora. After nearly two weeks in the hospital, the Forrests were finally able to take their daughter home. She has follow-up appointments scheduled with a rheumatologist and a cardiologist in the coming weeks but for now, the three-week-old appears to be healthy and strong.

“She’s alert, she’s gained weight, she looks at you, she even smiles,” says her mom.

Read more: How long will the COVID-19 vaccine protect you? Here’s what we know so far

Ceyda Forrest doesn’t know where she caught the virus. She says that in the weeks leading up to her daughter’s birth, the family didn’t leave the house at all. There were two outbreaks of COVID-19 at the Rockyview hospital at the time of Nora’s delivery but neither involved the maternity ward.

The Forrests say the experience with Nora has given them a new perspective on the pandemic.

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“We followed public health protocols and our whole family ended up catching COVID,” Ben Forrest said.

Ceyda Forrest agrees.

“When it doesn’t hurt you and when it’s numbers, it doesn’t mean much but when it happens to you, and you could actually lose someone to COVID, the seriousness of the situation becomes so real. Our little girl. We could have lost her.”