ANAHEIM, Calif. — Baby Adalyn Rose was breathing on her own Thursday, just two days after she was delivered from her dying mother’s body.
Her mother, 23-year-old Yesenia Lisette Aguilar, was killed Tuesday after being struck by an alleged impaired driver while out on a walk with her husband in Anaheim. Aguilar was 35 weeks pregnant with Adalyn Rose, who was delivered via cesarean section on the same day her mother died.
The baby has since been in critical condition, fighting to survive while in the NICU at UC Irvine Medical Center.
But James Alvarez, Yesenia’s husband, says a respiratory tube that was placed to help his daughter breath has been removed and she’s now breathing on her own.
“That gave me the strength to fight… to keep on pushing for her because, I mean, she’s doing that,” Alvarez said. “In a sense, it’s like my wife is using her, going through her, to show me to be strong for her and for my wife up in heaven.”
The new father said Thursday that Adalyn Rose’s eyes are open and she’s responsive.
“When I would talk to her, she recognized me,” he said. “One thing that I used to do all the time is speak to her through the womb. Every morning before I went to work, and when I came home, that was the first thing.”
Alvarez said when he speaks, the baby will immediately look to see where he is.
“I would tell her, ‘I’m right here, I’m not ever gonna let you go,'” he said. “That was the strength I needed to realize I have to push through. I have to get through this hard time.”
Doctors were initially concerned the baby could have brain damage due to possible loss of oxygen between the time her mother died and when she was delivered, Alvarez said.
“It’s like I’m living a nightmare and I’m hoping to wake up soon,” he told KTLA with a quivering voice Wednesday. “But I’m accepting the reality is she’s gone. And my daughter is the only thing that I have left.”
The new father attended a vigil Thursday evening for his late wife at the scene of the collision.
“It is difficult for me to see where I lost her. It’s hard because I’m reliving that moment, like constantly,” he said. “But I came here because I want to show my support to the whole community because my heart, my prayers go to everybody that showed the love to us… because we need it.”
He describes his wife as someone who left a positive impact on everyone she met.
“She would walk into the room and you would see her presence, and her presence was felt,” Alvarez said. “She had such a great impact, always positive, always smiling and she put everybody first.”
Yesenia worked at the front gate of Disneyland, which her coworkers say fit her personality perfectly.
“She always had a smile on her face. She was just outgoing and helpful and even if you’re having a bad day, she would make you laugh,” coworker Marcie Sandoval said at the vigil. “She was like my daughter. She was my Disney daughter.”
The driver who struck Yesenia, 40-year-old Courtney Fritz Pandolfi of Garden Grove, was charged with murder Thursday, and faces a felony count of driving under the influence of drugs causing injury, and a misdemeanor count of driving on a suspended license, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said.
Pandolfi had prior convictions of driving under the influence of drugs in 2008, 2015 and 2016, officials said.
Yesenia’s cousin Moy, who did not wish to share his last name, said he hopes people learn from his family’s tragedy.
“If you have any relatives or friends that are driving and drinking, don’t allow them to drive,” Moy said. “Take their keys away. Now, our family is very devastated. It’s tragic for us. We lost an angel.”
Alvarez created a GoFundMe page to help pay for his wife’s funeral and for the baby’s medical expenses. Nearly $120,000 was donated as of Thursday night.