Seeing Dilenia share a snuggle with her toddler Sophia, who glows with good health and delights in her mother’s affection, it’s hard to imagine their recent trauma and hardship before arriving at this happier moment.
As an expectant first time mother, Dilenia’s real struggles began just two weeks before her due date when she and her friend were evicted from their apartment in the Bronx.
From a shelter home in Brooklyn, Dilenia traveled three times a week back to the Bronx, leaving before dawn to make her early morning appointments to continue the careful monitoring of her high-risk pregnancy. But it wasn’t until after giving birth when it quickly became clear that Sophia was unable to latch on to the breast or bottle, that Dilenia learned that her baby had serious medical complications of her own.
“Sophia was turning purple, and couldn’t breathe,” Dilenia recounts in her calm, steady voice.
“She was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit, and that’s when the doctors diagnosed her with Down syndrome, and heart defects related to that, too.”
“I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t know what was going to happen, or what I would do,” Dilenia recalls of this terrifying time.
Dilenia had already used up her allowed 10-day stay at the shelter and she was not eligible to return. Homeless, and so fragile, how would Sophia survive, she worried? What would become of them?
For almost three months, until Sophia’s scheduled heart surgery, Dilenia and her newborn slept on a rotation of friends’ sofas. Then, during Sophia’s difficult 30-day recovery from heart surgery, Dilenia slept beside her in the hospital, and soon her own health began to suffer—as a self-labeled “emotional eater,” she put on 30 pounds that month.
Thankfully, the hospital had scheduled a post-operative visit for Sophia with pediatrician Dr. Kopa of our New York Children’s Health Project, who soon helped turn their lives around: after learning about their struggles from Sophia’s concerned cardiologist, Dr. Kopa presented a strong case for the mother and daughter to receive the aid they so crucially needed to survive.
“Homelessness is a chronic state of instability, which makes getting regular care for critically ill children, like Sophia, near impossible,” asserts Dr. Kopa. As a result of Dr. Kopa’s efforts and support, soon after Sophia’s heart surgery, Dilenia was granted affordable housing, including funds covering the first year’s rent and furnishings.
Dr. Kopa connected Dilenia with a social worker who has helped her learn to manage anxiety and focus on better self-care. He also referred her for gastric bypass surgery, a procedure she recently successfully underwent, and for which she is deeply grateful.
“My knees and joints were really hurting,” Dilenia says. “I’m so happy because I’m a lot more mobile and more energized since the procedure. I go to the gym and eat better.” And as Sophia requires visits to three different types of therapists each week, Dilenia needs all the strength she can get, to keep up with her growing child’s needs.
The challenging life situations that confront our patients affect their ability to stay on their feet. Without a home, Dilenia and Sophia’s health was in jeopardy. Our commitment to reach beyond the doctor’s office to assist with housing, food, baby supplies, and more is essential to helping families achieve lasting health.
Today, Dilenia reports that she and Sophia are doing really well. And, Dr. Kopa emphasizes, while he was able to help open some doors when pleading their case, it is only thanks to Dilenia’s own incredible efforts and relentless advocacy for her daughter that they have made it this far.
With your continued support, both can continue to heal and even thrive for years to come.