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Mount Sinai “Moms” Step Up

Alvin Tang’s mother died when he was just two weeks old, and he spent his first month of life in Mount Sinai Hospital, but the infant never lacked the comfort of a mother’s love. 

Alvin with Peggy Wan, RN
Alvin with Peggy Wan, RN

“We cuddled him, we fed him. One of our nurses, Bobbi Jo Nicholson, took his clothes home and washed them,” said Peggy Wan, RN in Mount Sinai’s Mother and Baby Unit. “I told his dad that Alvin has Mount Sinai moms here and we love and care for him.”

Healthy newborns like Alvin usually go home within a day or two. But the sudden illness of his mother, Xie Cai Yun, and her tragic death created extraordinary circumstances. Alison Gilmour, Nursing Unit Administrator, Mother and Baby Unit, and a team of nurses, interpreters and social workers responded with extraordinary generosity.

“It’s the most genuine outpouring of caring and love for a baby and a family that I’ve ever seen,” says Mary-Katherine Lowes, Social Worker. “I would come here in the mornings and see that someone had brought him a stuffed animal, or books or clothes. He’s always in someone’s arms and he’s content.”

During his stay, Alvin also needed a physician’s care, and Dr. Maggie Shu, Neonatologist, kindly agreed to be the infant’s primary caregiver. When the nurses noticed the baby was experiencing respiration and heart rate irregularities, Dr. Shu arranged for an echocardiogram at Sick Kids and for follow-up care. Medical staff collaborated with social workers and interpreters to ensure that Alvin’s father – a Mandarin speaker with limited English – understood the nature of his son’s mild heart defect and organized a series of follow-up appointments.

For new father Zongyi Tang, the support Alvin received made it possible for him to remain with his ailing wife in another Mount Sinai unit until she succumbed to liver failure on January 20.

In a letter to Mount Sinai, Tang wrote of his gratitude to staff for making his wife’s final month “as comfortable and meaningful as possible.” He also expressed his gratitude to “those who gave my son their hearts, who gave my son their love…”.

They also gave him a party. Familiar with the Chinese tradition of celebrating a newborn’s one-month birthday, Peggy and her colleagues dressed Alvin in a traditional outfit, gave him money in lucky red envelopes, enjoyed cakes donated by Five Star Catering and posed for photos with “their boy”, his father and other relatives.

“We wanted to give the baby good memories of Mount Sinai,” said Peggy. “We want him to know there was a party for him, that we celebrated him and that he has a lot of Mount Sinai moms.”

As Alvin grows up, he will hear about his many moms. He can read about them, too.

“I wrote a letter to dad in Chinese, from the baby,” said Peggy. “I told dad that Alvin has got a lot of love from us and said not to worry. I told him that the baby knows mom is in heaven and she will take care of him.

“Alvin actually has taught us a lot,” she added. “This little guy brought us together - nurses, social workers, service assistants, interpreters, volunteers, doctors, photographers and staff from different departments.”

At Alvin’s one-month party, Zongyi Tang thanked the group for all they had done and read them his own heartfelt letter, from his son. Despite already feeling the world’s sadness and happiness in his short life, Zongyi/Alvin wrote that, “I was lucky to be born at Mount Sinai and have a lot of Mount Sinai moms’ love. They fed me, they bathed me, they comforted me, they gave me clothes, they gave me unconditional love, which is more than a mother’s love.”

He promised to return when he has grown up. It was signed simply, “Son Alvin.”