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Meet Zayn

  • Author: Zayn Muneerah
  • Date Submitted: Mar 29, 2021
  • Category: Philanthropy

“ There was such a kindness culture at OU Children’s.”

Oklahoma City VA Physician & Mother Recounts Her Own Medical Miracle with Preemie Son Who Waged a Courageous Battle - And Won.

Dr. Aayshah Muneerah was shocked. She was pregnant.

“I had two sons who were 10 and 11, and it was just such a surprise, a good one,” she says.

But Muneerah, a family medicine doctor with the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, weathered a difficult pregnancy and experienced preterm labor. After becoming very ill at 26 weeks, she and her husband arrived at an Oklahoma City hospital emergency room and delivered son, Zayn, a few minutes later in the OB triage room.

“By some miracle, a neonatologist and her team just happened to be gowned up in anticipation of another patient and was able to intervene immediately,” said Muneerah.

zaynBaby Zayn was intubated and care teams worked to stabilize him. Days later, the family received the devastating news that Zayn had suffered a stroke.

Care teams identified a 4th-degree brain bleed on the left side of Zayn’s brain, and a 3rd-degree brain bleed on the right side.

Dr. Muneerah recalls that time grimly, “They weren’t sure if he was going to make it and shortly after told us he needed to be moved to OU Children’s Neonatology Intensive Care Unit (NICU) so he could have access to neurosurgeons and a robust care team. He had so many respiratory challenges, was on an oscillator, his hydrocephalus was increasing, and I was trying to pump regularly to ensure he had milk, while I was back at work three weeks after he was born. It was a very challenging time.”

Once the family got the call that Zayn was being transferred, Muneerah learned that a mutual acquaintance and respected colleague would be leading Zayn’s care team, Dr. Kris Sekar, OU College of Medicine neonatologist and Professor of Pediatrics.

“Dr. Sekar took him on and was just amazing. I knew he and his wife socially but hadn’t worked together professionally. He was so restless on the vent, and when Dr. Sekar took over, and changed the vent settings, Zayn was immediately more comfortable. After so many days on an oscillator, to be able to see the baby finally being less distressed and comfortable on the vent, was a gift.” “I vividly remember, I just felt at peace. “

The NICU team patiently cared for little Zayn, and helped get his weight up to 1400 grams (roughly 3 pounds) so they could perform a subgaleal shunt which makes a hole in the soft spot of the scalp allowing fluid to escape and decrease pressure on the brain.

“Being a physician, all I can think of is the things that can go wrong and the long-term effects of this pressure on the brain. The stress was palpable,” said Muneerah.

zaynBut following the procedure, Zayn’s condition began to steadily improve. And 30 days after his birth, his mom finally got to hold him and enjoy skin-to-skin time in one of the NICU’s specialized kangaroo chairs, a partially-reclined apparatus that encourages therapeutic touch between newborns and parents. “I was the happiest woman in the world”

After nearly 3 months, Zayn would undergo another surgery to place a shunt in his brain and would go on to endure a rough postoperative period, but the support of the NICU team and the team at “The Village” , the NICU’s step down unit, made it easier for the family to cope. Finally, on Oct. 5, Zayne was able to go home to his big brothers equipped with his own oxygen and hypoxia monitor.

But Muneerah didn’t forget the physicians, nurses, social workers, and other care team members who helped them bring their “miracle baby” home. Their kindness was one the Muneerah family wanted to pay forward. “Over the years, on any special occasion, we would buy food and drop it off at different times to ensure we could cover as many shifts as possible.”

This spirit of giving was a common thread in Zayn’s fight for survival as friends and colleagues gathered around the family to provide meals, decorate Zayn’s room and even donated more than 21 vacation days so Muneerah could have three weeks at home with the fragile infant. Dr. Sekar even wrote a letter to the United States Embassy in the United Arab Emirates embassy to allow Muneerah’s parents to receive early visa appointments.

Dr. Muneerah recounts, “One of the things I valued about the OU Children's Hospital Team was that they not only cared for the patient but also the family. As a tired mom, the presence of the Ronald McDonald House was like an oasis, where I could rest for a little while or go in to finish some charting i needed to complete immediately. During the weekends, Zayn’s older brothers would like to come but they would not be able to stay long in the NICU. Having “The Zone” accessible to the siblings of the patients was such a boon. Because of The Zone, brothers would look forward to visiting the baby, and got a reprieve from seeing the baby under so many wires and surrounded by beeping monitors. The outdoor play area was such a beautiful and peaceful park and was also a wonderful resource to get a break. These resources allowed the older siblings such positive memories.”

Muneerah shares that her family feels that OU’s NICU team is special because they have such committed people working there. She recalls how Zayn had a little music box playing classical music on a loop, and random nurses would come in to visit him to listen to music and give [the family] an encouraging word. They never felt like strangers to them. “There was so much kindness culture here at OU Childrens.

When Zayn arrived home three months after birth on supplemental oxygen, his work continued. Over the next several months, the family kept up a rigorous therapy schedule to give Zayn the best chance of living a full, vibrant life. With help from her parents who arrived from Dubai, where they live, Muneerah searched for ways to help Zayn’s cognitive and motor skills. A local neonatologist connected her to a researcher at OUHSC, who had recently secured an NHS grant funding for early childhood intervention and they collaborated with OU College of engineering to help with an interventional robot that helps premature babies to physically move and develop brain centers.

“We weren’t sure if he was going to talk, walk, or do anything on his own,” said Muneerah. Dr. Kolobe and her wonderful team at OU College of Physical Medicine, gave us so much hope! They would bring home a robot twice a week to which Zayn would get strapped on so he would get positive reinforcement for attempting to move!

Today, baby Zayn isn’t so little anymore. As a busy five year-old kindergartner, his days are filled with cars, legos and an uncanny knowledge about construction vehicles. But his mom is most proud that he scored in the top percentile on his benchmark test for his class staving off any remaining fears of a thriving life.

“When I look at him, we can’t believe it. Our friends always bring up that he’s such a miracle. From a fragile blob in an incubator to this boy filled with boundless energy and curiosity! He just loves playing outside in the dirt. I can't get him to come inside. What a gift when you consider how many prayers he received. I feel this [story] is very divine. It didn’t matter what religion. Any time I saw a prayer box, I’d put his name in it. He was in so many prayer groups from around the world - Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Zorashtrian, - there were so many people rooting for him.

“Thank you, Dr. Sekar, Dr. Drabu, Dr. Gottipati, the entire NICU team, the wonderful team in the Village and everyone who took care of our Zayn. We are grateful.”