When the pandemic arrived in Connecticut last year, Zully was eight months pregnant. It wasn't long before she became infected with the coronavirus, though she's not sure exactly how she contracted it.
“My son caught the virus, and we thought it was a common cold. Then my husband caught it,” Zully said in Spanish.
Zully is seeking asylum in the U.S. and has requested we use only her first name.
At a prenatal appointment, she was refused entry because she had a fever. The next day she was taken by ambulance to the hospital and underwent an emergency C-section. In the following weeks, Zully lay in a coma.
“I don’t remember anything, not how my son was born or what they did with him,” she said. “It was so sad because I thought for a moment I only came [to the U.S.] to die.”
It would be weeks before Zully came out the coma, and her husband and son were still COVID-positive. When she woke up, she couldn't remember a call she made to her son's teacher, Luciana Lira, also known as Ms. Lira.
Ms. Lira took the newborn baby into her home in Fairfield County while the family recovered.
“When I woke up from a coma, I lost my memory and I didn’t know where I was nor why. It took me weeks before I could fully walk again,” said Zully.
When Zully was discharged from the hospital, she was still testing positive for COVID-19. It would be 15 days before she tested negative. She was finally ready to pick up her son. Zully recalled the excitement she felt as she prepared to meet her baby for the first time.
“I thought, ‘What do I wear? How do I go? How do I welcome him?”
Upon arriving at Lira’s home, the family called Zully’s mother in Guatemala, where cases of COVID-19 were also on the rise. Zully came from Champerico, Guatemala, only a year before the pandemic started. Through a video call in Lira’s living room, the family gathered in prayer.
“My mother was very happy to see me again,” said Zully. “She was very scared to lose me because I’m her only daughter.”
To this day, Zully is still recovering; she says symptoms remain, like numbness in her left foot, and walking is difficult. Her voice is raspy when she speaks. Her lungs are weak from the ventilator.
Still, in her recovery Zully is joyous to be alive, and she describes Ms. Lira as a guardian angel sent to care for her family.
Her son Neysel will be 1 year old on April 2.
For more personal stories from those impacted by the coronavirus, watch The Cost of COVID, a Connecticut Public Cutline special. It airs Thursday, March 18, on CPTV and at cptv.org.
Brenda León is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.