The mother of Mariana Sifrit, the infant who died at just 18 days old after she developed a deadly virus that may have been contracted from a simple kiss, is speaking out about the tragic death as her daughter is laid to rest in a funeral Monday.
Nicole and Shane Sifrit were celebrating their wedding on July 7 when they noticed their week-old daughter, Mariana, had become so lethargic she couldn’t summon the strength to eat. They rushed from the reception to Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, where doctors notified them that Mariana had contracted herpes simplex virus type 1, and that it was wreaking havoc on her central nervous system. While doctors at Blank and at University of Iowa Children’s Hospital were periodically able to keep her stable, Mariana’s organs shut down one by one, and she died in her father’s arms on July 18.
“I never thought I would be going home without a baby,” Nicole tells PEOPLE.
Doctors say that it is likely that Mariana contacted the virus from a kiss by someone infected with it.
As Nicole prepared for Mariana’s funeral on Monday at Resthaven Cemetery in West Des Moines, she warned parents of the real danger the virus presents.
“If you know that you carry a virus, even if it doesn’t affect you, please don’t go see a newborn child, because there is nothing that they can do to fight it off,” she tells PEOPLE.
“Just being a new parent, be aware of who you have come to the hospital, make sure people are washing their hands. Be protective over your baby and don’t feel that you’re being rude,” she adds. “Protecting your child is your job, and don’t feel like you’re hurting other people’s feelings.”
David Warburton, a professor of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine at USC who had no involvement in Mariana’s case, echoes the grieving mother’s warning. “If a person who kisses the baby has an active herpes simplex lesion in their mouth, or they’re carrying the virus at a low level without lesions, they could infect the baby with the virus,” he says, adding that it is rare. “In general, it’s usually a good idea to keep your baby away from other people for about a month.”
Today, the couple is comforted by the thought that Mariana’s purpose in life was to raise awareness and possibly save the lives of other infants.
Nicole adds that she and her husband aren’t investigating who may have passed the virus on to Mariana. “How she got it is irrelevant,” she says. “We’re not in the situation to hate anybody and it would just be better if we didn’t know.”
The service held Monday at Hamilton Funeral and After Life Services was decorated with purple and pink colors, butterflies and flowers, and “Mariana” spelled out in big glittery letters, all to celebrate her memory. Shane had a purple shirt on under his suit jacket, and Nicole wore black dress with a purple cardigan. Her fingernails were painted a matching solid purple, except for the one on her ring finger—it had butterfly wings to symbolize Mariana.
“[We] will share her story and keep her alive that way,” Nicole says. “And that’s how we’ll grieve and get through this while we save other kids’ lives, and make other parents aware.”