First-time parents Calista and Michael Ambrosia didn’t know what to expect when they packed their bag and headed to Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

After enduring a miscarriage last year, the couple decided at 37 weeks and six days to go to the hospital’s obstetric emergency department for a quick assessment after Calista complained of stomach pain. It was there that a nurse noticed her slightly elevated blood pressure and called in the cavalry.

Moments later, Dr. Jessica Rhee, an OB-GYN at Novant Health WomanCare diagnosed Calista with preeclampsia and delivered the baby via cesarean section.

The couple admits that the hardest part was not the diagnosis or the delivery, but doing it alone, away from their family in Iowa.

Living on love

After getting married in 2016, the Ambrosia family decided to leave Bettendorf, Iowa, and start their married lives together as co-workers at John Deere in Kernersville, North Carolina.

“It was a tough decision to leave our families,” said Michael, “but we couldn’t wait to start our next adventure.”

Not long after relocating the couple also found out that they were expecting. “We couldn’t wait to be parents,” said Calista. “But being new to the area, we didn’t know where to go.”

That’s when a friend recommended Novant Health WomanCare and the couple never looked back. That pregnancy ended as a miscarriage, but Michael says the experience taught them a lot about resiliency.

“Sometimes you are forced to go through trials,” he said. “But we grew closer together as a couple and the support we received was fantastic.”

Quick thinking

Calista holds Aria at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center.
Calista and Aria Ambrosia.

One year later the couple was expecting again. But this pregnancy came with its own set of challenges – a collision course with the coronavirus.

“The travel restrictions were put in place just days before we were set to deliver,” said Calista. “We thought that our parents might still be able to drive down, but as it turned out, even (your daughter) having a baby is not considered necessary travel.”

And so it was a lonely feeling for the Ambrosia family when they entered the obstetrics emergency department at Forsyth Medical Center. Located on the fourth floor of the hospital, the recently opened OB-ED is the first of its kind in the region and staffed 24/7 by a board-certified obstetrician.

At first, Calista appeared to be healthy and still a few days away from giving birth. But the discharge process was halted after Dr. Sarah Foley, an OB-GYN hospitalist, ran a liver function test and her nurse, Tonya Rawley, astutely noticed that Calista’s blood pressure was slightly elevated.

Dr. Rhee would later diagnose her patient with HELLP syndrome, a rare and severe form of preeclampsia. If not treated, preeclampsia can cause blood cell and platelet dysfunction, impaired liver and kidney function, and an increased risk for postpartum hemorrhage (bleeding) and rarely death. Ultimately, the treatment for preeclampsia is delivery and when Calista’s disease was quickly worsening, Rhee recommended a C-section.

“As soon as they realized that I was not in my comfort zone anymore,” Calista said, “there was all sorts of help around me. And Dr. Rhee was calm, open and honest with us.”

The Ambrosias were also impressed with their anesthesiologist, Dr. Daniel Forest. “He was transparent, honest and kind,” said Michael. “And it didn’t hurt to learn that he has his own John Deere tractor.”

Healthy mom, healthy baby

First family photo at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center.
First family photo at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center.

Aria Esther Ambrosia entered the world on March 20, 2020.

Aria, which means song or melody, instantly brought a joyful sound to the labor and delivery floor. And in the absence of their own parents; doctors, nurses and lactation consultants filled in like extended family members for the celebration.

“As much as the coronavirus has made it so that our family can’t physically be together,” said Calista, “We have really learned to lean on each other.”

Michael added, “The foundation of our relationship is built on our faith in Jesus Christ. I think that is what has kept us together through the miscarriage, coronavirus visitor restrictions, preeclampsia, HELLP syndrome, and being told that we are going to have a C-section. It has been a very difficult time for us, but now we have this beautiful healthy daughter that we get to care for together.”

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