Calgary newborn recovering after 13 days in hospital with COVID-19

The first two weeks of little Nora Forrest's life have been eventful.

She was only five days old when she made history as one of Canada's youngest patients to be hospitalized with COVID-19.

And now that she and her family are recovering from a scary experience that included four days in intensive care for the newborn baby who had temporarily stopped breathing, her parents are urging people to get tested at the first sign of a symptom of the virus.

"At the sign of any symptoms, just get a test and then wait for the results," said Nora's dad. "And if you're negative, then keep on keeping on. And if you're positive, then there's a protocol for that, too."

All seemed well when Nora was born, in a Calgary hospital on Nov. 22. Hours after her birth, Nora was headed home with her parents, Ceyda Alaf Forrest and Ben Forrest.

"Everything was good. She was doing great, we were all fine," said Ceyda.

'Like a train just hit me'

But the next day Ceyda woke up feeling terrible.

"It kind of felt like a train just hit me," she said. "My eyes were puffy, my sinuses and throat were sore and I had a little bit of a runny nose. I thought I just had a cold because I didn't sleep and just had the birth and was very overtired."

The following day, Ben woke up with similar symptoms. The day after that, it was Ceyda's mother and 20-month-old daughter, Hazel.

"Since we had runny noses, we booked our COVID tests," she said.

The next day — as the family awaited their results — Nora broke out in a fever.

"We looked it up and they said if they're younger than two months old, you've got to take them to emergency right away, which we did," said Ceyda.

It was there, just nine hours later, that the family was informed Nora was positive for COVID-19.

Whole family tested positive

"In that time, we found out that we all have COVID, when we got a message from Alberta Health saying we're positive," said Ceyda.

While the doctors worked to decide whether or not the infant would be admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) or a regular unit, Nora stopped breathing.

WATCH | Calgary newborn survives COVID-19:

"The way they explained it to us is that she had apnea, where she was periodically forgetting to breathe and so they needed to put her on ventilation," said Ben. "They intubated her in ICU and that was definitely a pretty traumatic experience for both of us, but the procedure went well."

Dr. Jim Kellner, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with the University of Calgary, said while serious COVID-19 infections are more rare in children, physicians do worry more about infants in their first year of life, especially if they are premature or born with a medical condition.

1st year a risky time

"Those children can end up being admitted to the ICU at a rate that is similar to how it is in adults, and they can have a very rough course of things," he said. "Certainly the first year of life is a particular risk period for children. If they're going to get severe COVID, that's an age at which they can get it."

While the hospital sent Ben home immediately after his daughter was admitted to the ICU — as a way to limit the number of COVID positive people at the hospital — Ceyda remained with Nora in the ICU for the next four days, then in a different unit in the hospital for nine more.

"She was very irritable and she just wouldn't sleep," said Ceyda. "She would cry nonstop for 20 hours. She would cry and I have to bounce her. I didn't get to sleep for a couple of days either."

The family said they were told their daughter, who was just five days old when she was admitted to the ICU, had made history as one of Canada's youngest COVID-19 patients to be hospitalized.

At the sign of any symptoms, just get a test and then wait for the results. - Ben Forrest

Slowly but surely, things did improve for Nora — and the rest of her family.

It took only days for her parents and 20-month-old sister Hazel to recover, but her grandmother suffered for longer.

"Ceyda's mom was bedridden," said Ben. "She took the longest, probably 10 days to get over it."

Now, the family is home together.

"Nora is gaining weight, she's more alert and she looks at us and she even smiles sometimes. It's kind of cute to see," said Ceyda. "She spends more and more time awake instead of just sleeping. So we're actually doing much better."

In Alberta, more children per capita than any other province have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in-part because the province has done so much testing, Kellner said.

"The good news is, regardless of the number of cases, there really have been not that many cases of COVID-19 in children," he said "And the outcomes in these children are much milder on average than they are for adults. We've had no deaths that we know of in children under the age of 18 in Alberta.

Ben said most parents know that kids get runny noses and fevers often.

Submitted by the Forrest family
Submitted by the Forrest family

"And right now, for each runny nose the whole household is out of commission until test results come back, and by this point it was our fourth time going through it," he said. "We went through three of your run-of-the-mill runny noses and the fourth one, we were so surprised when we got the positive test result. "

He said although it might seem easy to get complacent, their family's story illustrates why following health guidelines and protocols is important.

"What I learned in this experience is the measures are there for a reason. They don't want parents judging whether it's COVID or not," he said.

Ceyda agreed.

"Our baby girl might not have made it. And just the idea of it, it's unbelievable how serious it could get," she said. "In the end, taking all the precautions and doing everything you're supposed to do, it's just one less thing to worry in the end."

The family said they don't know how or where they contracted the virus, having limited their circle to immediate family in the weeks leading up to Nora's birth.

"We're a unique case because Ceyda was 40 weeks pregnant and so we weren't going around to malls and stuff like that," said Ben. "We weren't leaving the house very often and we weren't seeing anybody, really."

Long-term impacts unknown

As for what long-term impacts COVID-19 will have on babies like Nora, Kellner said not a lot is known.

"Honestly, we'll all be a lot smarter and more experienced a few months from now and in a year or two from now. But in the meantime, we have to do the best we can with the knowledge that we have," he said.

The family said they are thankful for the staff at the Alberta Children's Hospital who helped them and Nora along the way.

"We're lucky to have something like [the children's hospital] here in Calgary," Ben said.