McALLEN — Cradling her daughter, gazing into her small brown eyes, Alana Patten said: “She can be a scientist, she can be a doctor, she can be an astronomer — she can be whatever she wants to be, and do whatever she wants to do.”
Two-month-old Gloria Mariselda Patten’s parents are confident in their daughter’s strength, because they know that in her short life so far, she has already proven that she can conquer much more than others her age.
Weighing just 2 pounds and an inch longer than a foot, Gloria was born on Feb. 29, more than three months earlier than her due date, classifying her as a micro-preemie baby. Alana had to deliver just 26 weeks into her pregnancy through an emergency C-section procedure due to pregnancy complications. Gloria had to be intubated right after birth, and was intubated for 28 days afterwards.
After 80 days in the neonatal intensive care unit at McAllen Medical Center, Gloria now weighs 6 pounds and was finally cleared to go home on Tuesday.
The NICU floor celebrated the occasion with a “graduation,” for which Alana sewed her daughter a tiny red graduation stole. It was still too big for tiny Gloria; a nurse had to hold the baby’s cap over her head for pictures.
As a lullaby rendition of “The Graduation March” played, Alana, with her firstborn in her arms, was wheeled down a hallway in the hospital, where Gloria’s nurses and doctors were waiting with pompoms to cheer them on — similar to how Gloria’s father, Jon Patten, said the medical center NICU staff has been at their side since she was born.
Jon considers the staff to be Gloria’s extended family.
“They did an incredible job, they were on top of it all,” he said. “It’s a terrifying thing: to have a newborn, then to have them in the NICU, especially during this time.”
For the last several months, visitor restrictions have been implemented at the hospital due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Alana and Jon have not been able to visit their daughter together.
They would take turns waiting in the parking lot; Jon said there were some instances when he was not allowed inside the hospital because his temperature was too high from waiting in the car. Tuesday morning was the first time in a while that they have been able to be together as a family.
Looking down at her daughter, Alana can’t help but giggle with joy.
“It’s such a big relief to take her home, we are so excited,” she said, caressing the top of Gloria’s head. “We want to make sure that everything is perfect for her, and make sure she has a safe and happy place to be.”
Gloria’s parents are excited to show her the Princess Peach from the Super Mario Brothers-themed room they prepared for her. More so, they are looking forward to caring and nurturing her in it, and to begin making memories in their home in Weslaco.
“To be able to nurse her to sleep, and have tummy time — to do things like that at home, not in an open room,” Alana said. “To have more privacy with her.”
Also because of restrictions prompted by the pandemic, Gloria has not been able to meet her maternal grandparents, and has only had a few minutes with her paternal grandmother.
“It has been a very different experience because they’ve had to love her from far away,” Alana said of Gloria’s grandparents.
However, Alana said she understands the reasons for the restrictions, and is appreciative of the nurses’ intention to protect Gloria.
“It’s been tough, it’s been very emotional,” she said. “But we knew that those rules were there for a reason. Even though it was tough, we know that those things were set in place to keep her safe.”
Gloria remained calm throughout her graduation, and even smiled at the crowd a few times. Surrounding nurses and administrators stayed quiet to hear her soft cooing. She sneezed once, and everyone could not help but say “bless you” to the tiny girl.
Alana and Jon have spent almost every day for the past three months at the hospital, where they have sung lullabies and read many books to Gloria. Most of what they read to her are Wonder Woman stories.
Jon said Gloria has his forehead and chin, while she has her mother’s hands and eyes. When asked what hopes he has for Gloria, he said, “I hope she is a lot like her mom.”
Jon added that he is proud of his wife for being a source of strength during Gloria’s stay at the care unit, especially since it happened during the time of the pandemic.
“Alana is a strong woman, she gave birth to a strong little girl, too,” he said.
Still sitting in a wheelchair, Alana fixed her daughter’s hair and told her, “you did so good baby.”
At one point, Alana called Gloria “a whole bundle of miracles.”