A Gift of Love

Premature care
Andrea and Adam Russin are now parents to daughter Sarah Joelle. Her initials represent her twin brothers’ names. The couple is expecting a son in June. Photo courtesy of the Russin family

A Westchester couple pays tribute to the excellence of Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital’s NICU with a charitable fund that honors the memory of their premature twin babies.

By Deborah Skolnik

Andrea Russin was just 26 weeks pregnant with twins, when she unexpectedly gave birth at home to two premature infant boys that weighed just over 1 pound each who were not breathing on their own.

Andrea and her husband, Adam, called 911. Emergency medical technicians revived the babies and then rushed mother and newborns to Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth). The hospital has the only Level IV Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in the Hudson Valley.

Named Jacob and Samuel, the babies’ condition was dire. They were placed on ventilators, while the NICU staff carefully attended to their needs.
Tragically, Jacob passed away one day after his arrival. Samuel continued to fight, and Andrea, now on leave from her job, stayed by his side. In the months that followed, she and Adam became deeply familiar — and impressed — with the NICU’s caring staff. “They treated us like we were their family. That’s not something that can be faked or manufactured. The nurses became such a part of our family, and our family story, that we will be forever grateful,” Adam says.

The staff grew just as fond of Andrea and Adam. “They are smart, capable people,” says Edmund F. La Gamma, MD, Chief of the Division of Newborn Medicine at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, noting that the couple pored over a textbook, Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies, which a faculty member gave them. Sue Malfa, RN, nurse manager of the NICU, remembers the Russins’ expressiveness and strong connection to their son. “They would come in and cry but, at Samuel’s bedside, they would smile at his beautiful face or even laugh while talking to him,” she remembers.

Premature care
The Russins at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. “We know that our sons got the best care in the world here,” says Adam Russin. “And that ‘s what we focus on. That’s what we are so, so grateful for.” Photo courtesy of WMCHealth

Sadly, about three and a half months after his arrival at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, Samuel succumbed to his critical condition. “It was very quiet in the room,” Malfa recalls. “It involved everyone including the nurses and staff.”

The NICU staff’s tireless efforts to save Jacob and Samuel made a profound and lasting impression on the Russins. “The easy thing to do would be to focus on our sons dying. But instead, we focus on the love and the care that they received while they were here for their short lives, and that’s what means so much to us,” Adam says

“Adam uses the word superheroes to describe the nursing staff and the first word that comes to my mind is angels,” says Andrea. “Because how could a stranger that doesn’t even know you, show such genuine compassion? It really makes the difference in what the experience is like when you’re watching someone else take care of your baby.”

With donations from family, friends, and community members, the couple established The Russin Family Fund, and uses its resources to support Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital’s NICU . They gifted more than 300 copies of Preemies, the textbook that they relied on during their ordeal, to other NICU parents.

The Russins generosity is helping to expand the care provided by the children’s hospital, which currently treats more than 30,000 critically ill infants and children each year from across the Hudson Valley and beyond. 

The hospital’s neonatal group also provides on-site neonatologists to eight other local hospitals, to assist babies from the moment of birth. In Dr. La Gamma’s experience, survival outcomes at Maria Fareri Children Hospital’s NICU rival those of any facility worldwide.

“Beyond high-quality medical services, we also value high-quality communication and interaction,” Dr. La Gamma says. “We understand the heavy toll these situations take on families, and we are committed to supporting them as well.”

“I am forever grateful,” says Andrea. “I was so thankful and blessed that I ended up here sort of by accident in an emergency situation, in such an incredible hospital.” Adds Adam: “If you have to be in a children’s hospital, or your family has to be in a children’s hospital, there is no better place on the planet than Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital.”