Sylvia LeRoy spent her whole life caring for others. Now she’s the one in desperate need of care.
The labor and delivery nurse, who works at Brookdale University Medical Center in Brownsville, tested positive for the coronavirus — at 28 weeks pregnant with her second child.
Within weeks, that diagnosis spiraled into a medical nightmare that left the 35-year-old in a vegetative state.
“She did nothing except go to work and then come home to her family,” her devastated husband, Jeffry, tells The Post. “She must have picked up the virus from one of her patients.”
LeRoy’s coronavirus tragedy began in late March, when the hospital staffer came down with fever, chills and fatigue. On March 27, the Prospect Lefferts Gardens resident was admitted to her place of work — where she’d also given birth to her first son, Jeremiah, nearly three years ago. She tested positive for COVID-19.
Her condition continued to worsen. On March 31, she was transferred to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, where she was placed on a ventilator.
LeRoy’s family spent the next week in hell, fearing the worst for mom and baby. (Some medical experts warn that pregnant women are more vulnerable to life-threatening respiratory symptoms if they contract COVID-19.)
To their relief, the nurse’s condition started to improve. On April 9, she was strong enough to be removed from the automatic breathing machine and moved out of the intensive care unit. Her loved ones exhaled.
“We were celebrating,” says LeRoy’s sister, 41-year-old Shirley Licin from Morris Plains, New Jersey. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t go see her, but she was asking for things she wanted, like fruit.
“We thought the worst was over.”
It wasn’t. On April 12, LeRoy suffered a cardiac arrest — a shock to her medical team as well as her family.
“Both Jeffry and I were on the phone with the doctor as my sister coded,” says Licin, tearfully. “They were crying. You hope and pray that these smart, bright health-care professionals have got it in hand, but when they are afraid, you are afraid.”
According to Licin, LeRoy’s doctors still aren’t sure what caused the heart attack. But they suspect that the thick, heavy fluids in her lungs — a consequence of COVID-19 — may have played a role.
As the family listened on in horror, LeRoy’s hospital team worked to keep her heart pumping. After several minutes, they had a breakthrough: Her heart was beating, and she had stabilized. But the baby’s life was still in danger.
Medics promptly rushed her to the operating room, where an emergency C-section was performed.
Born at 30 weeks, baby Esther weighs 3 1/2 pounds, and is recovering well in the neonatal intensive care unit. But her mom wasn’t as lucky.
For four long minutes, LeRoy’s brain was starved of oxygen. Although the mom-of-two is conscious now, “she is not cognitively responding to anything people are asking her, like to squeeze their hands if she can hear them,” says Licin.
The family is gutted.
“Her husband, Jeffry, is trying so hard to step into the shoes of this caring mom. Their son, Jeremiah, cries for his mommy every night,” says Licin. “He is so used to her being there for him — a wonderful hands-on mom who would take him out to the park and read him his favorite stories.”
Things look bleak right now, but LeRoy’s sister and husband believe that there’s still hope. Some of the professionals they’ve spoken to believe that LeRoy can progress if she spends time at a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center.
“The next six months are critical for Sylvia,” says Jeffry. “She needs and deserves the best care possible because she was 100 percent devoted to her job.”
Her sister adds, “She deserves to be in a place where they can combine pharmacological treatments and ways to develop neuroplasticity to help bring her back to full consciousness and function.”
Licin is hoping to find a place for LeRoy at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey — a leading center for brain injuries. But payment is a problem: LeRoy gets her insurance, Care Alliance, through her union, 1199SEIU. It will only foot the bill for 30 days of treatment, when LeRoy needs at least 60 to see improvement.
Licin has set up a GoFundMe to raise money for her sister’s medical needs. So far, it’s raised $30,000 of its $200,000 goal.
“She is a lovely woman with a warm, open heart. She would do anything she could for her family and her patients,” she says. “Someone who has cared for all these people over the years now needs someone to care for her in return.”
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