Elburn residents Jaclyn Vazquez Algrim and her husband, Scott Algrim, had been looking forward to Thursday, June 2, for 590 days.
That was the day their 19-month-old daughter Ava Monroe came home from Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, where she has been for more than a year after being born 13 weeks premature.
Ava’s twin, Olivia Grey, had been in the neonatal intensive care unit of Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, where the twins were born, for 100 days before she returned home to Elburn on Feb. 8, 2021.
Now, Ava has finally been able to join her family.
“I have all the feels,” Vazquez Algrim said. “We’re nervous, we’re anxious, we’re excited. It’s like we’re holding our breath. But we’re ready to start this next chapter in our life and pull our family together. I’m overwhelmed with emotion and joy.”
Because the twins were born so early, Ava’s lungs were not properly developed. She and Olivia both were intubated immediately after birth, but while Olivia was able to successfully wean off a ventilator after a few months, Ava was not.
“Things were touch and go with Ava from the beginning. We didn’t know if she would make it. It was so very scary,” Vazquez Algrim said. “But this little girl is a fighter. At every turn we were told she wasn’t going to make it, but she kept fighting. And now she’s coming home.”
The couple, who also are parents to two boys, found out they were pregnant with the girls early in the pandemic. Despite taking every precaution to avoid contracting the virus, Vazquez Algrim said, she was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Oct. 3, 2020. After her diagnosis, Vazquez Algrim was hospitalized until the babies were delivered at 27 weeks and 5 days.
Ava was 1 pound, 6 ounces and Olivia weighed 2 pounds, 4 ounces at birth, she said.
“It’s the worst feeling leaving the hospital without your children,” Vazquez Algrim said. “I didn’t get to hold Ava for three weeks after she was born. The girls were separated, so they never felt each other.”
After Olivia went home from the NICU after 100 days in the hospital, Ava was transferred to Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. Ava eventually transitioned from the NICU to a pediatric intensive care unit just before Thanksgiving 2021, where she remained until June 2.
Melissa Dacanay, a PICU nurse who took care of Ava while she was at Lurie Children’s Hospital, said she felt a special bond with Ava. And while she’s happy the toddler is able to go home, she will miss seeing her.
“I think Ava will make amazing strides when she goes home,” Dacanay said. “She’s developing and starting to hit awesome milestones in terms of strength. She’s smiling, rolling over and playing. I love all of my patients, but sometimes you connect with some in a different way, and she amazes me. I’m super proud of all the progress she’s made.”
While at home, Ava’s parents, along with the help of volunteers, will be responsible for her care. Ava will receive at-home therapies to help her continue progressing.
Vazquez Algrim said her daughter soon will start eating baby food and other purees.
“Scott and I have been doing a lot of her care when we were [at the hospital] visiting. We know her schedule and how to give her respiratory therapy. But as she continues to grow and develop core strength, that will help her lungs continue to develop and she’ll wean off oxygen,” she said.
Reflecting on the past 19 months, Vazquez Algrim described it as “a heavy journey,” but is grateful for all of the doctors, nurses and hospital staff who helped get her daughter home.
“I don’t think I can express the gratitude to those who’ve helped our family,” she said. “The community support has been overwhelming and beautiful. It’s been hard, but we’re praying we can come through this all together and be stronger.”