QNS Special: Born at Elmhurst

Kaur-Collado Family
The Kaur-Collado Family (Photo courtesy of NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst)

The Circle of Life

Stephanie Collado was born at Elmhurst and has lived her entire life in Queens. Her husband, Gary Singh, was also born at the hospital. And on May 4, 2020, near the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stephanie gave birth prematurely to twin girls, Aaliyah and Gia, at Elmhurst.

Stephanie wasn’t just born at Elmhurst; she’s been cared for in the hospital in some important ways. As an infant her mother brought her to Elmhurst for treatment for a hip problem; her legs weren’t growing evenly. Years of on-and-off physical therapy and special shoes helped her legs grow straight and even. By the time she was 10, Stephanie was back in normal footwear. She hasn’t had a problem since.

Stephanie and Gary, who still live in Queens, originally planned to have their babies a little closer to their immediate neighborhood. But during Stephanie’s pregnancy strange symptoms emerged: A rash appeared on her face, and her joints and hands swelled up. Her doctor admitted her to the local hospital, where they spent four days trying to figure out what was wrong. But doctors there weren’t able to diagnose her. 

“It was debilitating and I was desperate, so I decided to go to the dermatology department at Elmhurst,” she said. “They did biopsies and kept digging until they figured it out.” Finally, Stephanie got a diagnosis she never expected: lupus, an autoimmune condition she may have had for years without knowing it. Pregnancy can trigger a flare-up. She began seeing a rheumatologist at Elmhurst, who prescribed medications to keep her symptoms in check. And that excellent care prompted Stephanie to move her prenatal care to the hospital, too.

“The hospital’s been in my life since I was born, through my childhood. Then they helped me find a cure for my ailment and give birth to my two daughters,” she said. “I feel very connected to my community because of this hospital.”

That level of comfort helped Stephanie when her babies came early, just 31 weeks into her pregnancy. At the time, the coronavirus was spreading through the area so quickly, Elmhurst Hospital established quarantine protocols to protect patients and workers. That meant Gary wasn’t allowed inside with her. “Giving birth during the pandemic was so difficult. I couldn’t have anyone there—not my husband, and no midwife or doula,” she said. “But it felt safe the whole time. Giving birth is a traumatic experience. You don’t know what’s coming at you, you don’t know what to expect. But I met the kindest, most wonderful people there. From the moment I gave birth, the nurse helping me the first three nights was amazing. Everyone I encountered was so kind. You can’t find that everywhere.”

Because her daughters were premature, they stayed in the NICU for a full month, until each of them weighed five pounds. A few days after giving birth Stephanie was discharged home. The pandemic meant she and her husband couldn’t touch or even visit their newborns as they grew. But the staff at Elmhurst found ways to keep the family connected. The social worker on their case sent photos and notified her when the babies hit milestones, and they had regular video chats so Stephanie and Gary could see their daughters’ progress for themselves.

“Everything happens for a reason, I believe,” she said. “This must be a metaphor for something—life is full circle. You go back where you came from. It’s a silver lining.” 

All in the Elmhurst family

Navdeep Kaur and her brother, Jagmeet Singh, are both nurses at Elmhurst. And both were born there, eight years apart. In their family, they are first-generation Americans.

“My siblings were born there, my cousins were born there, we’re all connected,” said Jagmeet, who goes by Jimmy. “Even when I’m not at work we’re still connected, because that’s where we were born. I grew up with at least eight cousins on the same block, all of us born in the hospital.”

Navdeep has similar memories. “We’re like an Elmhurst family,” she said. The kids in their generation played together and knew everybody else on their block. “Any time any of us got sick or needed an ER, we’d go there. Kids are kids, so growing up we went to the ER for a lot of things.”

Photo courtesy of NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst

When she graduated from nursing school, Navdeep had only one place in mind she wanted to work: Elmhurst. With an aunt, Parminder, already working there, the decision was simple. 

“When I started at Elmhurst, I felt at home right away,” she said. “I knew the area, knew everything around here, even though I’d been away for a while.” In her eight years at the hospital, Navdeep has worked in rehabilitation, neurosurgery, and progressive care, and is now a nurse in the intensive care unit. “It’s the only hospital I’ve ever worked at, and I never want
to leave.” 

Jimmy, younger by eight years, followed in her footsteps. He’s now in the geriatric unit. “It feels good to work in my neighborhood hospital,” he said. Though the area has changed plenty since Jimmy and his siblings and cousins were kids, and even though he himself now lives in New Jersey, the area is still deeply familiar to him. “My grandfather still lives in the house where I grew up, and I group my workdays together and stay with him,” said Jimmy.  “Some days I’ll be leaving work and I’ll see him outside, and it’s a 20-minute walk from home, but he’s really active. His primary caregiver is in the hospital, too—he likes going there.”

‘Elmhurst strong’

Navdeep was among the first Elmhurst workers to get sick with COVID-19, while she was working in the ICU in March. Her husband, who doesn’t work at the hospital, also fell ill with the virus. Fortunately, their symptoms weren’t severe, so they recuperated at their home. “My coworkers were an additional support system, another family,” she said. “We talked to each other on the phone, and they texted to check in on me, asking how I was doing each day.” Two weeks later, she was back at work.

While the hospital rushed to learn all that they could about the virus and how best to care for patients, Jimmy worried about his sister even as he was transferred to the ICU stepdown unit. “It was traumatizing at first, but we just had to get through it,” he said. “We pulled through, Elmhurst strong. The saying is very true. It’s a community-centered hospital, and what we’ve been through shows how strong we are.”

Both siblings see their work at the hospital as a way to stay connected to their roots. “To me, it’s kind of like, OK, you brought me into this world, so I’ll give back,” said Navdeep. “It means more because I’ve known that area for so long.” And for Jimmy, the feeling runs deep. “Working here gives me a sense of purpose, not just for myself but for helping others,” he said.

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