A member of the FDNY and his wife are reeling over the death of their 5-month-old daughter who fell victim to COVID-19, one of the youngest patients to be diagnosed with the virus in the city.
Jay-Natalie La Santa, who had a pre-existing heart condition, initially tested negative for COVID-19 on March 21st after being admitted for a urinary tract infection and bronchiolitis at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx. It also happened to be the same day her father Jerel Jay La Santa began his career as a firefighter, working for Ladder Company 39. Jay-Natalie's mother Lindsey Mahala works for the New York City Department of Education.
On March 27th, while staying at the hospital, Jay-Natalie was tested again and was diagnosed with COVID-19. She was later intubated, and died on April 20th.
"There's so many things we got, so many things we didn't even get to use with her because she was still little," said Mahala, through tears. "We have Pampers. We never had to buy any Pampers because we had so much of it. So many wipes. And now, we're looking at her bouncer and it's empty. There's not a baby in it. So many clothes she didn't even get to wear."
The doctors had initially told Jerel and Mahala that their baby would pull through, given how rarely children have passed away from the disease. Statistics from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene show there were four COVID-19 deaths among children between the age of 0 to 17. Each case was linked to a pre-existing condition.
"We were worried, but they kept saying, 'Guys, she's a cardiac baby. She's going to heal a little slower than most kids. But she's going to beat this,'" said Mahala, who was told her baby had a 60-80% of surviving. "This virus, even though, we're in unchartered waters, we see kids are beating it. And unfortunately she wasn't one of them."
Her death has befuddled Jerel and Mahala, who began noticing her condition improving before she passed. Then things took a sudden turn, with Jay-Natalie's condition worsening. "[W]e asked [the doctor] what happened, we're confused. And she said that they don't understand. They mostly saw this in adults. They never saw this type of situation happen with a child and that her bloodwork was great. All the levels were perfect. Like this was one of her best nights," recalled Mahala.
Mahala hopes that her daughter's death will not be in vein, serving instead as a cautionary tale to young people who believe they're invincible to the disease. "This virus doesn't discriminate. It's not just attacking the elderly or adults. It attacks children as well," said Mahala.
A GoFundMe page set up in Jay-Natalie's name initially sought to secure $10,000, but was since changed to $30,000 to reflect the true costs of hospital expenses that included numerous X-rays for Jay-Natalie that went for $150 each time. There was also the funeral costs.
"No one plans for a funeral. We were never expecting to have to fork up thousands of dollars to bury our angel," said Jerel.
Members of the FDNY were outside the Children's Hospital at Montefiore saluting their fellow member's daughter as she was ushered out. A viewing is scheduled via Facebook Live on May 2nd. She'll be buried at St. Raymond's Cemetery in Parkchester.
"She came into this world fighting the way she left. She was our warrior princess," said Jerel.