Ma Jiansong, president of the Chinese Medicine and Dai Ethnic Medicine Hospital in Ruili, Yunnan province, broke into a smile when he received a photo on Nov 13. The shot showed triplets wrapped in blankets, stretching their arms far and wide as if reaching for the camera.
They were born prematurely in August to Zi Rong, the first COVID-19 patient in China to give birth to triplets.
"I heard that the oldest baby and the youngest now weigh more than 5 kilograms. The middle child weighs slightly less, but is also doing well," Ma said.
Zi, the mother, has been cured of the disease, and she returned to her home in Ruili on Nov 19.
Reflecting on the battle to save the newborns' lives and shield them from the novel coronavirus, Ma said it would have been impossible for the grassroots hospital to achieve the result without outside help.
The 29-year-old mother-to-be was admitted to the hospital on July 9 after testing positive for COVID-19. She was 28 weeks pregnant.
"She has a diminutive figure, and the pressure of being diagnosed with COVID-19 made her very anxious," Ma said. "Her condition later worsened, and she was identified as a severe case."
The State Council's Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism quickly sent a team of experts to Yunnan to jointly devise a diagnosis and treatment plan for Zi. They came from Beijing, the provinces of Jiangsu and Guangdong, and other parts of Yunnan.
"During group consultations, medical workers in different sections－the COVID-19 infection treatment group, the obstetricians and the team dedicated to caring for the babies－made requests and raised questions for discussion," Ma said. "We prepared thoroughly to ensure the safety of Zi and her babies."
One of the medical team's deepest concerns was that one infant would test positive for the virus while the others remained negative. The members also had to devise ways to prevent the babies from contracting the virus during their stay at the hospital, he added.
It is still unclear if "vertical transmission"－a virus' potential to pass from mother to baby during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding－is possible.
"We arranged three separate nursing teams, prepared three separate rooms and three sets of equipment to care for and monitor the newborns' conditions," Ma said.
On the morning of Aug 11, as Zi's condition stabilized and her pregnancy reached 32 weeks, she was wheeled into the operating room－a special one where the necessary precautions to prevent infections had been put in place.
As the hospital does not have its own blood bank, a larger facility in Ruili had reserved convalescent plasma and regular blood supplies ahead of Zi's cesarean section.
In an interview with Xinhua News Agency, Zi said she had been astonished to see such a large team gearing up for the surgery. As she lay on the operating table, she asked a doctor surnamed Zhao if she could hold his hands to alleviate her anxiety.
"The room was so chilly, but his hands were really warm," she said. "It was the kind of warmth that comes from the palms of the hands."
Her babies were born at about 10 am, and none of them tested positive for the virus.
In a thank-you letter sent to the hospital the next day, Zi and her family said the concerted efforts and devotion of the joint medical team were "a beacon of light and hope that guided us through the darkest hours of our lives".