Parents of newborn battling life-threatening illness are warning others

Posted at 4:53 PM, Jul 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-14 18:53:45-04

IOWA CITY, Iowa – An Iowa couple is hoping for the best, as their newborn daughter fights for her life in an Iowa City hospital. And it's all because of a virus the baby caught – by something as innocent as a kiss.

"It's horrific," Nicole Sifrit told WQAD-TV. "It's one of the saddest things ever, and most of the time, I'm still in shock."

Nicole and her husband Shane expected the first week of July to be the best week of their lives. On July 1, Nicole gave birth to a baby girl named Mariana, and the couple got married on July 7th. But just two hours after exchanging their "I do's," the newlyweds noticed something terribly wrong with their week-old baby girl.

"Friday, we noticed she stopped eating and wasn't waking up when we were trying to get her to respond," Shane said.

The couple left their own wedding early to go to a Des Moines children's hospital, where they learned Mariana had contracted a life threatening virus called Meningitis HSV-1, caused by herpes. Doctors say she likely got it from a kiss, from someone who carries the cold sore virus but not necessarily through an open sore.

"They touch her, and then she touches her mouth with her hand," Nicole explains. That's why doctors say diseases spread quickly in babies.

Mariana's parents tested negative for the virus, so Mariana was sent to the neonatal intensive care unit at Blank Children's Hospital in Des Moines. Her condition immediately worsened. "Within two hours she had quit breathing and all of her organs just started to fail," her parents emotionally recall.

This week, Mariana got even more sick, and she was airlifted from Des Moines to the Iowa City Children's Hospital so doctors can "just constantly watch every vital sign," her mom said. "She is currently on life support to help her by right now."

But even in dire circumstances, baby Mariana isn't giving up.

"She has a kidney team, a liver team, a blood team, a neurology team," her dad said. But both parents, understandably, remain shaken up. "I always thought this stuff happens, and it's a shame and never thought it would happen to me and was not prepared at all."

They warn other new parents to "keep your babies isolated, don't let just anyone come visit them, and make sure they are constantly washing their hands. Don't let people kiss your baby, and make sure they ask before they pick up your baby."

Doctors say the best care scenario is for Mariana to stay in the hospital for at least another month. They say because of the damage the virus has already caused, if she survives, they expect long-term health problems.

According to the Meningitis Research Foundation, many people carry the herpes virus, without ever showing any signs or symptoms.