By LISA EISENHAUER
An intensive care unit nurse in Arkansas has sparked a national outpouring of support since she started a baby registry for a young father whose wife was hospitalized with COVID-19.
Ashlee Schwartz, an ICU nurse at Mercy Hospital Fort Smith, shared the family's travails with local media. The story since has been picked up by "Good Morning America," People, The Washington Post and other national news outlets.
"If you told me when I started this that it would have turned into this, I would have laughed and told you you were crazy," Schwartz said about the media attention and deluge of donations.
Schwartz met Eric Robison, 23, in August after his wife, Emily, was admitted to the hospital with complications from COVID. The hospital was seeing a surge in COVID patients at the time. Emily Robison stood out because she was only 22 and six months pregnant.
Eric Robison sits surrounded by some of the baby gifts donated by strangers. While his 22-year-old wife, Emily, was being treated for COVID-19 in the intensive care unit at Mercy Hospital Fort Smith in Arkansas, doctors delivered the Robisons' daughter, Carmen. Emily died of COVID complications about a month after Carmen's birth.
The first time Schwartz saw Eric Robison he was sitting on a folding chair staring through a window into the ICU room where his wife was on a ventilator. "It literally broke my heart," Schwartz said.
On Aug. 25, with Emily Robison's condition grave, doctors performed a Cesarean-section. Baby Carmen, 2½ months premature and weighing less than 3 pounds, went immediately to the neonatal ICU.
When Schwartz learned that the Robisons hadn't had time to do much in the way of nursery planning, she coaxed some of her colleagues into going in on gifts for the newborn. Other than some baby clothes, the couple had nothing for Carmen. She asked Eric Robison if they had a baby registry. "He asked me 'What is a baby registry?'" Schwartz recalled.
Carmen Robison was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit at Mercy Hospital Fort Smith after doctors delivered the premature infant by emergency cesarean section.
Schwartz set up registries on three sites and spread the word on social media. When local news media reported the story of the young father whose wife and infant daughter were in ICUs, the items on the registries were snapped up.
On Sept. 20, Emily Robison lost her battle with COVID. Schwartz said Eric Robison was reluctant to inform local media but she persuaded him. "I said, 'I don't want to pressure you, but I don't think you realize how much support there is if you were to share that Emily has now passed,'" she said.
The day after Fort Smith news outlets reported on Emily Robison's death, "Good Morning America" contacted Schwartz and Robison. Soon other national outlets were on the story. As of late October, Schwartz still was getting calls and emails from news reporters and producers asking for interviews.
Schwartz is eager to keep the Robisons in the spotlight. It has helped bring in assistance for a family with few resources. In addition to gift donations through the baby registries, a GoFundMe account that Schwartz set up had more than $25,000 in contributions on Nov. 3.
Schwartz also wants the story of Emily Robison's death to prompt pregnant women to get vaccinated for COVID. Emily Robison, an asthma sufferer, hadn't gotten a shot. Her husband said in news interviews that he and his wife thought they were too young to be at risk.
Schwartz said Robison has become like a little brother to her. She's committed to continue helping him and Carmen find support. Tiny Carmen remained in the NICU in late October. The baby had been set for release when what Schwartz called reflux issues prompted doctors to extend her hospital stay.
"I hope sharing this story will save some other lives somehow and maybe help people learn to be more mindful if they see someone in need to act and do something about it," Schwartz said.
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