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Teacher Of The Year Cares For Student’s Newborn Brother As Their Family Recovers From COVID

A Connecticut elementary school teacher has become a temporary guardian to her student’s infant brother while the boy’s family recovers from COVID-19.

Luciana Lira, a bilingual/ ESL teacher at Hart Magnet Elementary School in Stamford, Connecticut, took the baby into her care at the beginning of April, after receiving a phone call from her student’s mother.

Zully, whose son Junior is in Lira’s first-grade class, was eight months pregnant and in need of an emergency C-section because she’d tested positive for COVID-19.

“I can hardly talk because I’m having a very hard time breathing, but I wanted to let you know that I need your help,” Zully said, according to Lira. “Please call my husband.”

Lira told NBC News that although she only knew the couple through parent-teacher conferences, when they asked for help she “didn’t think twice.”

“When that mom called me asking for help, it did not even come across my mind not to say ‘yes,’” the teacher recalled.

Baby Neysel was born five weeks early, on April 2, weighing only 5 pounds, 10 ounces.

Lira had been serving as a translator so the family could communicate with their doctors. She also coordinated efforts to get the family baby supplies they would need, but when the baby was cleared to go home with his father, Lira and Zully’s husband, Marvin, considered that Marvin was likely infected with COVID-19 as well.

“How are we going to release this baby to this father? There’s a chance he could be COVID positive,” she said. “What are we doing here?”

Lira said Marvin told her, “I am desperate. I don’t want to kill my baby. If I’m COVID positive, he’s probably not going to make it.”

“I said, ‘You know what, if you want, I know you don’t know me and I don’t know you, and I think I’m crazy for doing this … until you get tested, I can keep the baby with me for one or two days,’” Lira told him.

“He said, ‘Oh my god, Ms. Lira, I don’t know you but I know I can trust you… and I’m going to trust you with my baby’s life,'” according to Lira.

A few days later, both Junior and Marvin tested positive for virus.

“All we could do was cry and be thankful that I had the baby with me and the father didn’t have any contact with the baby,” she said.

After giving birth, Zully was in critical condition and required the use of a ventilator for weeks.

Doctors fears she would not survive, but she fought hard and began to get better. Although she still tested positive for COVID-19, on April 25, Zully was finally well enough to be discharged from the hospital.

Lira has been caring for the baby for over month but she told CNN that she communicates with the family “a thousand times a day.”

“The family is amazing. I mean, amazing. They love their baby, they can’t wait to be reunited,” she said.

Even though Lira has her hands full with her full-time job teaching remotely, and caring for the new baby as well as her own 11-year-old son, she was able to launch a GoFundMe campaign to help the family and has already raised more than $26,000.

Lira is grateful for all the support she has received from colleagues and even some non-profits.

“She was asked to care for a newborn baby during a pandemic when she herself was concerned for the welfare of her own child and family,” Hart Magnet Principal Linda Darling told NBC News.

“In a split second, Ms. Lira said yes, and totally committed her time and efforts to seeing that this baby was nurtured emotionally and cared for as one of her own.”

According to Lira, Marvin and Junior currently await coronavirus test results, and Zully will be retested today.

Lira plans to care for Neysel until the whole family is officially cleared of the virus, but she hopes the baby will meet his new mother soon.

Susan LaMarca

Written by Susan LaMarca