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'It's A Miracle': Some Of Harvey's First Evacuees Were Newborns, Flown To Fort Worth

Stella M. Chávez
Nereyda Rangel's newborn baby girl was one of 10 babies flown from Corpus Christi to Fort Worth's Cook Children's Medical Center.

Nereyda Rangel sang to her newborn daughter at Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi. The building sits only a few blocks from Corpus Christi Bay, which spills into the Texas Gulf Coast.

As Hurricane Harvey brewed in the Gulf, Shaddai Jireh Leija fought for her life. Soon, she and other newborns would need more than just medical care. They would need help getting out of there.

 'Tu tienes el poder' 

Shaddai was born premature. She has a congenital heart defect that left holes in her heart. It’s hard for her to breathe.

Having a child in a hospital is hard for any mom. But a life-threatening storm on top of that made Rangel cling to her faith even more.

This storm was unlike others. It grew stronger and headed toward Corpus Christi. Driscoll Hospital decided to evacuate.

That same day, Shaddai’s blood pressure dropped and her face turned purple. Rangel wasn’t sure if she’d be allowed to travel with her baby.

So she prayed. And she sang.

Tu tienes el poder,” she said to God in Spanish. “You have the power to stop this hurricane or help me with my daughter.”

A short while later, a paramedic came into the room and told her “You ready, Mommy? Vamonos. Let’s go.”

Rangel had 20 minutes to pack. She moved quickly despite the pain from her C-section.

Prepared for the worst, hoping for the best

Shaddai was among 10 babies flown on small jets from Corpus Christi to Fort Worth’s Cook Children’s Medical Center before Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25. Shaddai was supposed to be born around that date, but she came early on Aug. 2.

The hospital does these transports every day – 3,000 a year.

Credit Photo provided by mother
Shaddai Jireh Leija was born premature and with a congenital heart defect. She's being treated at Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth.

“Every day when we go on a transport, we take a Pandora’s box of equipment with us in the event we never really know what we’re going to get,” said Debbie Boudreaux, program director for the hospital’s Teddy Bear Transport program. “So we’re always prepared for the worst, hoping for the best.”

Patients who weigh 10 pounds or less are placed on a portable incubator attached to a ventilator. Boudreaux has been doing this 30 years. She has three sons of her own.

“You are taking someone’s most prized possession away from them,” Boudreaux said. “So my job and the job of my staff is to ensure them that we were going to take care of them like our own.”

Hospital officials say some of the babies could return to Corpus Christi soon. Rangel isn’t sure when she and her daughter will go back. Doctors have told her Shaddai will need heart surgery soon.

Still, Rangel’s faith gives her hope.

Es un milagro,” she said in Spanish. “It’s a miracle. My daughter is a miracle from God. She’s alive because of him. He’s with us and has never left us alone.”

For now, Rangel spends all day by her daughter’s side, singing and praying. Harvey may have forced them to move across the state – 400 miles from home – but this mother and her baby girl are together.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.