‘My heart is here’: 1st Sonoma County baby of 2023 remains in intensive care

Baby Leo Rossi had to have emergency surgery the day after he was born.|

Dante Rossi’s phone kept pinging with notifications as he and his wife, Melissa Rossi, were getting ready to bring home their new baby, Leo, the first born this year in Sonoma County.

The alerts were from his home camera, which detected the movement of some “Welcome Home” balloons that Dante Rossi’s mother and three other children decorated the house with as they awaited little Leo’s arrival.

The rest of the Rossi family had finally gotten a glimpse of their new baby brother via FaceTime and they were eager to see him in person.

But as the Rossis were packing up to leave Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital on Jan. 2, doctors took another look at Leo after he hadn’t had a bowel movement. Subsequent X-rays revealed he had an intestinal obstruction.

He needed to be transported immediately to San Francisco.

The celebration was postponed. The siblings’ introductions were put off. And the balloons eventually turned into a reminder that Leo wouldn’t be coming home — at least for a while.

Leo had been transferred that day to Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and pediatric surgeon Dr. Claudia Mueller performed emergency surgery on the 2-day-old infant.

Leo had a blockage caused by an atresia, meaning part of his small intestine did not connect with the rest of it. When Leo had eaten, the food built up inside him instead of passing through, Mueller said Monday.

Mueller removed the blocked portion of the intestine and created an ostomy, a procedure to allow waste to pass out of the body through a surgically created opening.

If she hadn’t operated that night, the intestine could have burst “like a balloon,” Mueller said.

Leo, who remains in the neonatal intensive care unit, will undergo another surgery Feb. 15 to reattach the two portions of his intestine. Then it will be at least two more weeks of healing in the unit.

Since the first surgery over a month ago, Melissa Rossi has stayed in the NICU with her son. She’s changed Leo’s ostomy bags, soothes him whenever he cries and sits up for each hospital check that come around every three hours. She helps prepare Leo for the reattachment surgery by inserting a tube into the smaller portion of intestine and squirting 20 milliliters of saline to stretch it.

Melissa Rossi has been home only three times since Dec. 30, when she first went into labor with Leo in Santa Rosa. Otherwise, she has stuck next to Leo — and she said she prefers it that way, so he knows his mother is there.

“Every touch he knows is mine,” she said.

But it’s been isolating. Melissa Rossi said she misses her usual routine — talking about her day with her husband, seeing her other kids and going to work. She doesn’t see how she could leave the hospital, though, especially when she gets to hold her baby in ways many parents of NICU babies do not.

“My heart is here,” she said Tuesday from inside the hospital. “There is no way I could walk out the hospital doors with my baby here.”

While Melissa Rossi tends to the newborn, her husband has had to take on more household duties — cooking, cleaning and getting the kids ready for the day. Their oldest daughter, Brooklyn, 9, sometimes helps out in the mornings by waking up her dad — a task he struggles with, he said — and making the family pancakes for breakfast.

Dante Rossi said he is focused on doing what’s best for his family, but it has been hard not having his wife and new baby home.

A few weeks ago, when the family thought Leo might be released ahead of his surgery, Dante Rossi set up more balloons, put up a banner and wrote “Welcome Home Baby Leo” in a window of their Santa Rosa home.

It was another disappointment, however, when Leo ended up having to stay in the NICU, Dante Rossi said. He reluctantly took down most of the decorations.

“I just didn’t want to take them down until he was home,” he said.

But he left the message on the window as a reminder, he said, that his baby will be along soon.

As the homecoming kept getting pushed back, on Saturday the hospital allowed the rest of the family to meet baby Leo.

Almost immediately after Melissa Rossi stepped out of the NICU’s doors, the kids ran and crowded around their new brother. Lucca, 2, stopped first to kiss his mom before peering down at little Leo.

One by one, the siblings took turns holding the 7-pound, 5-ounce baby boy.

Brooklyn told her mom she understood why she had to stay with Leo and she wouldn’t have wanted him to be alone.

Vianna, 4, kept commenting on how perfect his eyes and face looked.

Lucca cupped the back of Leo’s head and repeated, “I love you, buddy.”

“I can’t kiss him with my mask on and I need to kiss him,” he added.

After Lucca’s turn holding Leo, he looked at his mom and asked the question she had been dreading all day: Could she and Leo come home now?

Her heart broke a little as she explained she had to stay, but she hoped she could bring Leo home soon. But she knew “soon” was not going to be quick enough — it would probably be another month away.

A GoFundMe has been started to help the Rossi family with Leo’s expenses, which include the nearly $35 a day Melissa Rossi has to pay for hospital parking.

You can reach Staff Writer Madison Smalstig at madison.smalstig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @madi.smals.

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