By Tammy Scileppi
Losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. A local mom who lost her baby to a prenatal condition yearned to help other grieving parents dealing with a newborn’s passing.
Through her grief, Corona resident Elizabeth Ortiz came up with a meaningful gesture to honor her beloved son Ellisander’s memory. She called her project “Ellisbearyloved” and is hoping to spread love and emotional support by sending special boxes filled with comforting items to those families across the United States this month to remember little warriors – babies who fought to meet their families and just couldn’t fight any longer.
The boxes will be filled with journals, pens, pencils, custom bracelets, candles, organic lotions and body scrubs that were donated by Moon Meadow Naturals — a Queens start-up — as well as a teddy bear, a book of quotes and a list of songs that helped Ortiz through the grieving process. Personal letters written to the families about her journey and story will be included.
Elizabeth trying to raise enough funds on GoFundMe, to help with shipping costs for the boxes. And a nonprofit is also in the works.
Coming home empty-handed from the hospital after Ellisander’s death left a permanent hole in his mother’s soul. Though her heart was broken, she was able to cope, thanks to her family’s support and her faith. She said she felt comforted by her belief that after her baby’s terrible ordeal, he would now rest safely and peacefully in heaven.
Born June 26, 2017, Ellisander came into the world with a prenatal defect called omphalocele. The tiny, four-pound infant fought hard to live, but was unable to do so. He died in his mother’s arms on July 4.
While the family grieved, their thoughts would gradually turn to helping others.
Elizabeth Ortiz was grateful for the opportunity to share her story. “At 13 weeks I went to my OBGYN and they informed me that my son may have gastroschisis,” she said.
Gastroschisis is a birth defect of the abdominal wall which causes the baby’s intestines form outside of its body, exiting through a hole beside the belly button.
“I was a bit scared but remained calm and saw a high-risk doctor. I asked God to please give me a sign that my son will be okay and that he will survive this,” Elizabeth said. “During the sonogram at 13 weeks, he flipped three times. I had been feeling movements since he was 10 weeks, but seeing him do backflips was amazing. I knew then and there that my boy was going to be OK.”
Then she got the news.
“They confirmed that my son had gastroschisis. They were very respectful and asked if I would like to terminate but supported me either way. I immediately said ‘no way’ and cried,” Elizabeth said.
She did some research and found some hope, as there were good survival rates associated with the defect. But after another few weeks, doctors told her the baby’s liver was outside the body, as well.
“They informed me that now it was called omphalocele, a type of abdominal wall defect in which the intestines, liver and occasionally other organs remain outside of the abdomen in a sac because of a defect in the development of the muscles of the abdominal wall,” Elizabeth said, noting that while the survival rate is less then that of gastroschisis, many infants do survive.
After 33 weeks, Ellisander was born.
“When they took my son out, I heard his cry. I was unable to see him immediately because of all his intestines being outside,” she said. “I had about 20 people in the room with me to take care of him and they told me they would try to do surgery to put his intestines back in, immediately, but I asked if I can see him first.”
When Elizabeth and her husband first saw Ellisander, he had a bag over his intestines to prevent infection.
“I was so happy to meet him and to know he was alive,” Elizabeth said. “On day seven, my son finally got to meet his little brother, who was sedated because they had to put his intestines in, but he kept pushing them back out of his body.”
Elizabeth had gone home to get some rest and found some comfort in a 1 a.m. phone call from doctors who let her know Ellisander was OK. She went back to sleep, but woke up later in a panic. She knew something was wrong and rushed to the hospital.
Doctors told Elizabeth that Ellisander’s intestines and liver turned entirely black and there was no chance of survival.
“I dropped to the floor and screamed. It was the worst moment of my entire life,” Elizabeth said. “My husband arrived a few minutes later, and he had to tell my son, Elias, that his brother is passing away. Hours passed, and doctors kept giving Ellisander medications and eventually several blood transfusions because he was bleeding out. Everyone left it up to me to pull the plug on my little baby boy.”
Elizabeth remained hopeful, but at 8 p.m., she decided to pull the plug.
“I have no clue how I survived that day, or the next,” she said. “I think about it and say to myself, ‘How did I get here? How did I not have a mental breakdown?’ All those times I just wanted to die. I woke up every day without one of my sons, but the only person who kept me whole was Elias. He kept me alive.”
Elizabeth said she will always hold a special bond with Ellisander, even with his death.
“Since the day he passed away I felt some kind of peace for about two months,” she said. “Something told me he was here with me, something kept me so peaceful. It was amazing the way I felt. I couldn’t explain it.
But moving on has proven to be difficult. Elizabeth had trouble leaving her home for a while, as going outside and seeing other babies served as a constant to reminder about her fallen angel.
“I felt lonely, sad and depressed,” she said. “Eventually as time passed, I kept picking myself up and began doing projects to honor Ellisander. I just did things day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. I have no idea how.”
They say that every cloud has a silver lining. Now Elizabeth has new babies to look after. She gave birth May 2 to healthy twin baby girls.
“God blessed us twice more,” Elizabeth said.