Connecticut teacher cares for student's baby brother as family recovers from coronavirus

“I am desperate. I don’t want to kill my baby," the father told Luciana Lira, prior to being tested for COVID-19.
Image: Immigrant Mother And Family Suffer With COVID-19 As Teacher Cares For Their Healthy Newborn
Luciana Lira, 42, holds baby Neysel, then two and a half weeks old, at Lira's home on April 20, 2020 in Stamford, Conn.John Moore / Getty Images

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By Suzanne Ciechalski

When Luciana Lira, an elementary school teacher in Stamford, Connecticut, received a phone call on April 1 from the mother of a student asking for help, she didn’t think twice.

Zully, whose son, Junior, is in Lira’s first grade class, was eight months pregnant and in the hospital.

“I can hardly talk because I’m having a very hard time breathing, but I wanted to let you know that I need your help,” Zully said, according to Lira. “Please call my husband.”

Zully, 30, needed an emergency C-section. She had also tested positive for coronavirus.

“I did not think twice about it. ... When that mom called me asking for help, it did not even come across my mind not to say 'yes,'” Lira, who teaches English as a second language at Hart Magnet Elementary, told NBC News.

Baby Neysel was just 5 pounds, 10 ounces when he was born.

Lira asked that the last name of the family be withheld due to privacy concerns.

Luciana Lira, 42, holds baby Neysel, then 2 and a half weeks, while showing the newborn via Zoom to Zully and her son Junior, 7, via Zoom on April 20, 2020 in Stamford, Conn.John Moore / Getty Images

Lira, 42, only knew Zully and her husband, Marvin, from parent teacher conferences and occasional phone calls about Junior's performance in school.

Initially, Lira was serving as a liaison and translator between doctors and Zully's family. She was also working to get the family baby supplies, like bottles and a car seat, fully expecting Neysel would go home with his father eventually. But right before Neysel was supposed to go home, it struck Lira that Marvin might also have COVID-19, the disease associated with coronavirus.

“How are we going to release this baby to this father? There's a chance he could be COVID positive," she said. "What are we doing here?”

Marvin shared the concern, according to Lira, telling her: “I am desperate. I don’t want to kill my baby. If I'm COVID positive, he's probably not going to make it.”

COVID-19 patient Zully is adjusted in her bed by her husband Marvin and son Junior, 7, also covid-positive, after she arrived back to her home by ambulance on April 25, 2020 in Stamford, Conn.John Moore / Getty Images

“I said, ‘You know what, if you want, I know you don’t know me and I don’t know you, and I think I’m crazy for doing this … until you get tested, I can keep the baby with me for one or two days,’” Lira told him.

She told Marvin that if he did test positive, he couldn't be around her because she's asthmatic and at higher risk.

"He said, 'Oh my god, Ms. Lira, I don't know you but I know I can trust you… and I'm going to trust you with my baby's life,'" according to Lira.

Both Marvin and his son tested positive for the coronavirus a couple days later.

“All we could do was cry and be thankful that I had the baby with me and the father didn’t have any contact with the baby,” she said.

Zully remained hospitalized after giving birth. She’d been in critical condition, on a ventilator, with doctors worried that she would not survive. Finally, on April 25, she was discharged from the hospital, but still testing positive for COVID-19.

“During this we cried a lot together,” Lira said. "There were days we would tell each other, ‘Let’s pray, because that’s it.'”

Recovering from COVID-19, Junior, 7, and his father Marvin pray at home on April 24, 2020 in Stamford, Conn.John Moore / Getty Images

It’s been more than a month since that first phone call and Lira is still caring for baby Neysel, while also juggling teaching full time and caring for her own 11-year-old son.

“I’ve been getting help from all over and that makes all the difference,” she said.

Lira emphasized that everyone, from her colleagues to some nonprofits, have pitched in to help her navigate this new life.

Elementary school teacher Luciana Lira, 42, speaks with a student remotely via video call while caring for one-month-old Neysel on May 1, 2020 in Stamford, Conn.John Moore / Getty Images

“She was asked to care for a newborn baby during a pandemic when she herself was concerned for the welfare of her own child and family,” Hart Magnet Principal Linda Darling told NBC News. “In a split second, Ms. Lira said yes, and totally committed her time and efforts to seeing that this baby was nurtured emotionally and cared for as one of her own.”

Lira said Marvin and Junior are awaiting new coronavirus test results to see if they are negative. Zully will also be tested again on Friday. She’s hoping Neysel will finally meet his mother soon.

“It is what it is, right?” Lira said. “At least we’re saving his life.”