Nurses at St. Boniface Hospital bundled up baby Lisi and nestled the newborn against her mother Saturday — just before the Nunavut woman was removed from a ventilator and died.
Silatik Qavvik, 35, had tested positive for COVID-19 just days after delivering the child by caesarean section in late November. Her husband, Peter Qavvik, and the infant, her youngest of five, also tested positive while in hospital.
The woman's sibling, Mary Cookie, travelled south from the Inuit community of Sanikiluaq to be with her older sister during her final hours Saturday and escort the baby to the town of about 900 residents on Belcher Islands in Hudson Bay.
The precious moments between mom and baby were heart-wrenching but will be cherished, she said.
"Even though Silatik was very ill, I grabbed her hand and let her touch baby's head and told her, 'Your baby's here for you.' I kept talking to her about her children, telling her they'd be fine and taken care of," Mary said Monday in a phone conversation with the Free Press. "It was very hard. I just tried to be brave."
Silatik was then taken off the ventilator, as her family had instructed. Mary connected with Silatik's parents, Johnnie and Annie Cookie, by video conference so they could say goodbye.
"It was very emotional when she passed," said Johnnie, the mayor of Sanikiluaq. "We're trying to get by."
Mary and her niece flew home Sunday. The baby is healthy and doing well, Johnnie said, and is being cared for by her paternal grandmother and her father Peter, a shops teacher at the high school in Sanikiluaq. His kids range in age from just six weeks old to 16.
"Lisi will receive a lot of love from all her family," Johnnie said.
He said Silatik was tested for COVID-19 soon after her baby was born Nov. 23 and received a positive result. Her husband and daughter also tested positive.
Johnnie and his wife spoke to their daughter for the final time at the end of November.
"She was saying that she was very scared and just wanted to come home soon," he said. "Soon, she was placed on the machine to help her breathe (in early December)."
Lisi recovered and could have been flown home earlier; however, family, in consultation with medical professionals, felt it was important the infant have contact with her mother.
"We did a FaceTime, and even though my daughter wasn't talking or moving, they told us she could hear us," he said. "Whenever the doctor asked, the baby would be brought to her and laid down on her."
Sanikiluaq residents, including expectant mothers, are flown to Winnipeg to receive medical treatment.
Johnnie said family members were shocked when they were informed about the positive COVID-19 test.
"We didn't expect this illness while she was in hospital. We don't know how she got it. No one in our family up here is positive," Johnnie said. "They said the COVID-19 passed but there were serious complications after. Her kidneys and liver were affected."
Nunavut did not report its first case of COVID-19 until Nov. 6 but has since recorded 266 cases and one death, a resident of Rankin Inlet. It's not clear if Silatik's death has been reported by Manitoba health officials.
Johnnie said his daughter was a caring and compassionate child, and carried that through to motherhood.
"She was a very beautiful girl and, in a lot of ways, very helpful. As a student, according to her fellow students, she always helped them with their work," he said. "Even to this day, the last time she was here she was helping us. She lived down the road from us and when we went to our cabin, she came over to help us pack up, and when we got home she'd be there to help unpack, too.
"When Lisi grows up, she'll know her mother was very kind to people. She will be remembered forever because of her kindness."
A GoFundMe page had raised more than $2,000 for the woman’s husband and kids by late Monday.
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