Shane and Laken Buckley of Westfield hold their daughter Caroline just before leaving the neonatal intensive care unit at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. At 2 days old, Caroline Buckley of Westfield contracted COVID-19. Ninety-eight days later, she and her parents left for home. Credit: Courtesy of Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center

WESTFIELD, Maine — One of Aroostook County’s youngest residents is home after a harrowing bout with COVID-19.

Shane and Laken Buckley of Westfield welcomed their daughter, Caroline, on Nov. 12, when she was born at Northern Light A.R. Gould Hospital in Presque Isle weighing just 3 pounds and 6 ounces. But the baby, born 9 weeks premature, was ill, and before they could begin to bond as a family, Caroline was airlifted to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and diagnosed with COVID two days later.

What followed was a 98-day ordeal in the neonatal intensive care unit, where baby Caroline endured being on a ventilator and numerous other procedures. Her parents quarantined with her for nearly a month, where they could do nothing but watch as their daughter became sicker. But the grateful family returned home on Friday.

For months, the family looked forward to being together under one roof. Now that they’re all back home, the family is enjoying every minute, Laken Buckley said.

“To say we are extremely happy to be home would be an understatement,” she said Monday. “Caroline is doing amazing and settling in perfectly. And her big brother Jonathan is over the moon and it was the best thing ever to finally see them meet for the first time on Friday.”

Buckley tested positive for COVID just days before Caroline was born, and the virus transferred from her to the baby. Doctors told her such transmission is not common.

Laken and her husband were allowed to be in the room with Caroline, but essentially had to quarantine there with her. If they left, they wouldn’t be allowed back in due to concerns about bringing the virus back in with them. So there they stayed until Dec. 6.

“We had no choice but to watch every procedure or anything they had to do to her,” Buckley said. “We watched her progressively get sicker and sicker as the days went on until she was on the high-frequency ventilator, and there wasn’t much more they could do and we were not sure if she was going to make it.”

Caroline’s health began to improve, though, and hospital staff declared her free from contagion on Dec. 6. But she still faced more than two months of recuperation in the NICU.

When her husband had to return to work, Laken Buckley remained at the hospital until Caroline’s condition stabilized enough so she felt comfortable traveling back home from time to time. Splitting the time between the hospital and Westfield was incredibly difficult, Buckley said.

“But there’s something to be said about knowing the nurses and having enough trust in them to leave my sick infant with them for a few days at a time,” she said. “The nurses were amazing and were an amazing support system for me.”

On Friday, doctors declared baby Caroline strong enough to be released. Hospital staff lined up to send the family off as they walked out of the hospital.

With that experience now behind them, Buckley said they are all grateful for the support they received.

“We would not have made it through this incredibly difficult time without our supportive family and friends and the outpouring love we received from the surrounding communities and churches who prayed for her without ceasing,” she said.