Imagine moving to a foreign country and facing abandonment, homelessness and theft while pregnant with twins. Unfortunately for Fiona*, she didn’t need to imagine—it was her reality.
In the summer of 2010, the 28-year old Nigerian immigrant arrived in the United States with her fiancé. The couple moved so Fiona could complete medical school, but after learning of her pregnancy, Fiona’s fiancé abandoned her, leaving her destitute.
Still on her fiancé’s visa and knowing no one, Fiona sought help from a women’s shelter. For the first time in months, she felt secure. Though that quickly changed when a woman who befriended Fiona at the shelter stole what little belongings she had. Left with nothing, she became stressed, went into preterm labor and was hospitalized for six weeks.
“Coming here, having two babies and being by myself—that was the hard part,” Fiona said.
After hearing her story, doctors referred her to Nurses for Newborns Foundation, a United Way supported agency that provides a safety net for at-risk families in order to prevent infant mortality, child abuse and neglect by providing in-home nursing visits.
Gwen, a resident nurse at Nurses for Newborns, was matched with Fiona’s case. When Gwen visited Fiona’s apartment, she was shocked by what she saw.
The cramped space housed nothing but a single mattress on the floor where the infants slept, and Fiona on the ground beside them.
“They had nothing. I looked around and I could see the lack of safety right there. They didn’t have furniture or a TV—they had nothing,” Gwen recalled.
The next day, Gwen was driving down the street when she stumbled across a community yard sale. Immediately thinking of the bare apartment she had just visited, Gwen purchased everything: sofas, chairs, pillows, cribs, pictures and “anything to make it look like a home.”
Recruiting help from family members and passersby, Gwen arrived at Fiona’s door with a lengthy procession of furnishings.
Fiona and her mother, who was visiting from Nigeria at the time, watched in awe as the once barren space transformed into a home within minutes.
Just days before, a depressed and crying Fiona told her mother, “I just can’t do this. I’m going back to Nigeria.”
But now with a furnished living space that felt like a home, Fiona’s mother informed Gwen, “You just don’t know how that helped. Now I can go back [to Nigeria] and know that my daughter is in good hands.”
In addition to home furnishings, United Way provided Nurses for Newborns the funding to supply Fiona and her babies with clothing, formula, diapers, wipes and other newborn essentials.
“If it weren’t for United Way, we wouldn’t be able to exist as far as having the nurses, staff or support teams. With United Way support, we’re able to be a reliable organization,” Gwen said. “And if Nurses for Newborns hadn’t been in Fiona’s life, I don’t know what would’ve happened.”
Time passed and Gwen’s visits became more frequent as the bond between her and Fiona grew. Gwen began to learn about Fiona’s life back in Nigeria and how, she too, was in the medical field.
“As it evolved, we found out she had been a doctor in Nigeria and had come here to study. She thought she was going to have a beautiful life, but was then hit with the shock of being abandoned and pregnant with twins,” Gwen said.
Gwen and the Nurses for Newborns staff wanted to give Fiona the chance to pursue her dreams and provided her with the necessary resources to make her dream a reality.
In January, Fiona passed her medical boards with an exceptionally high score and recently completed the clinical portion of her certification. She is also in the process of applying for a residency to stay in the St. Louis area.
“What looked like a hopeless situation has now evolved and is beautiful,” Gwen said proudly.
Although Fiona’s daughters are now two years old and are no longer in need of Nurses for Newborns’ assistance, Fiona and Gwen still keep in touch.
“I’d like to say a very big ‘thank you’ to Gwen,” Fiona said with gratitude. “Gwen is a wonderful woman and very kind-hearted. She went beyond what she’s supposed to do as a nurse. She checks on us from time to time, even up until now. The girls are toddlers now and no longer newborns, but she still comes around and checks on us, brings us things, and if I have a problem, I can call her and she’s always there.”
*photo and name changed to protect identity.
About Nurses for Newborns Foundation
Nurses for Newborn’s mission is to provide a safety net for at-risk families in order to prevent infant mortality, child abuse and neglect through home based programs that provide education, healthcare and positive parenting skills. They have been a United Way supported agency since 1998.
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