‘I almost lost her’: Months-old baby fights severe case of RSV in Florida hospital as case numbers rise

At just 2 months old, little Lailani was intubated in the PICU of All Children’s Hospital for days.

SAINT PETERSBURG, Fla. — A rise in respiratory illnesses across the United States is filling up hospital rooms including right here in the Tampa Bay area. 

One of those is occupied by a Seffner mother and her baby girl after weeks in and out of the intensive care unit. 

“Is she gonna be okay? Is she gonna make it through this? I’m still like, ‘What could happen next?'” Mariah Perera said Wednesday afternoon.

She spoke to 10 Tampa Bay’s Angelina Salcedo after leaving the hospital room for the first time in days. She’s been living a parent’s worst nightmare. At just two months, her baby Lailani caught RSV and wound up in the PICU at All Children’s Hospital for nearly a week now. 

“I can’t help her. I can’t take it from her. I can’t make her feel better,” Perera said. “So I have to just watch her go through this and be the strong one for her, but it’s hard to see your child like that. It’s very hard to see them like that.”

She’s desperate for answers and a positive outcome while she sits by her bedside. The good news is she’s getting better, but the mother is still worried about what could happen next. On New Year’s Day, Lailani started showing symptoms.

“I could see her ribs as she was breathing and I’m like, ‘Oh, something’s not right,'” Perera said. “So then that’s when we rushed her to the urgent care pediatrics after hours.”

From there she was rushed to a hospital in Tampa, but discharged after two days. She wound up back in the hospital hours after, then eventually life-flighted to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg where they’ve been for days now. The 2-month-old is one of more than 185 cases of RSV at the hospital.

“I almost lost her,” Perera said. “If she didn’t get flown here the way she did and they jumped on it, I think my daughter would be gone. 

“These doctors effortlessly just came in and the amount of love the nurses and doctors gave is amazing.”

On Tuesday evening, they were able to take the baby off the ventilator. Perera said she was smiling and eating her bottle again after being sedated for days, That’s why she and her son wear her little face on their chests to show they’re “#LailaniStrong” and bring awareness to RSV.

“People say, ‘Oh my baby will never catch it,’ [but] I thought that too and she got it bad,” Perera said.

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That’s why she has a message for parents who want to keep their kids safe, healthy and out of the hospital.

“The first couple of months keep your children at home. Especially if [the] flu season is bad, you’re hearing RSV is bad and COVID-19 [cases being] back up. Please keep the babies at home and make sure you’re extra careful with germs around them. You just never know. A little cough can turn into something serious.”

The family still doesn’t know when Lailani will be healthy enough to leave the hospital. That’s why her family is trying to get support while Perera is out of work and at the hospital with her. If you’d like to help, you can do so by clicking here. 

Meanwhile, there are ways to prevent your baby from getting sick. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all infants up to 8 months old receive the new preventive antibody for RSV called Niresevimab, if it is available in their pediatrician’s office. They also encourage children 6 months and up to get their flu and COVID-19 vaccines as well.

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