Elementary school teacher Luciana Lira would often get calls from her students and their parents when they had questions about assignments in her class, English as a second language, especially since her Stamford, Connecticut, school moved online.
But the call on March 31 was different. It was from a student's mother, whom she had met only a few times at parent-teacher conferences.
"Miss Lira, my name is Zully — I'm Junior's mom," the woman told her in Spanish, gasping between breaths, Lira recalled. "I need your help. Please call my husband and help him andmy son. I'm at the hospital, and I'm going to have an emergency C-section."
Zully said that she was about to give birth to her second child but that she had COVID-19 and was in respiratory distress. She and her family had recently moved to the United States from Guatemala.
Lira called Zully's husband, Marvin, and he gave permission for her to communicate with medical staff and act as the go-between for the family. Zully and Marvin asked that their last names not be published for privacy reasons.
Doctors monitored Zully for two days, then delivered her baby, Neysel, five weeks early. The infant, who weighed 5 pounds, 12 ounces, was sent to the newborn intensive care unit for observation, while Zully was put on a ventilator and remained in a coma for more than three weeks.
"They didn't think she was going to make it," said Lira, 42.
And the news worsened from there.
Junior, 7, and his stepfather needed to be tested for the coronavirus. If positive, they could quarantine at home, but there was not a plan for what would happen to Neysel.
Lira had been in contact with the hospital monitoring the situation. She decided there was only one option, and called Marvin.
"I know that you don't know me, and I don't know you," she recalled telling him. "But if you want, I can take the baby with me until after you are tested. Then you can come and get your son from me."
Marvin sobbed and agreed to her proposal. "I'm going to trust you," he told her.
So on April 7, with Zully intubated in intensive care, and Marvin and Junior isolated at home, Lira bought a car seat and diapers, then drove to Stamford Hospital to bring home the newborn.
When news came back two days later that Junior and his stepfather had tested positive for the coronavirus (Neysel had tested negative), Lira's family quickly settled into a new routine of feedings and diaper changes.
Now, Lira handles most of the daytime caregiver duties while also teaching ESL online classes for grades K through 5. Then she's also up most of the night with Neysel, she said.
"I'm exhausted, yes, but it's very rewarding," said Lira, a schoolteacher for two decades.
"Neysel is a preemie, so he needs to be fed every two hours or so," she said, "and he loves to stay awake most of the night. But I am honored that the family wanted me to help."
Although Zully was recently released from the hospital and is recovering at home with Marvin and Junior, she is still too weak to walk on her own and hold Neysel, Lira said. So Lira will continue to care for the infant as long as necessary.