ST. ALBANS — Arriving two weeks before her expected due date, Layan Malak Mahdi came into the world a seemingly happy and relaxed baby. Just moments after birth, wide-eyed and cradled in her mother’s arms, Layan stuck out her tiny tongue as her uncle snapped numerous photos.

Born on the second day of the year, Layan was the first baby delivered at Northwestern Medical Center in 2018. She was featured on the front page of the Messenger with her mother Nour Akkad Wattar, maternal uncle Tawfik Akkad and NMC’s Family Birth Center Nurse Cecilia Ryll.

Even before she was pictured in the newspaper, images and videos of Layan were shared across the continents, including delivery room Skype video-calls with Nour’s parents in Aleppo, Syria; and messages to Nour’s husband, Dr. Haitham Mahdi, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Back when Nour and Haitham began planning for pregnancy, discussions about future opportunities for their child forced big decisions on the couple. “When you are Arabic you need a visa for travelling just about everywhere,” Nour says. “After the war in Syria began, it became more complicated for Syrians around the world.”

The couple departed Syria a couple of years ago, as Haitham acquired a specialized cardiac surgeon position in Abu Dhabi. Nour’s brother, Tawfik Akkad, relocated to Montreal, Quebec a decade prior.

With Montreal’s proximity to the Canadian-American border, Tawfik and Haitham began researching Vermont as an ideal place for the birth. Tawfik drove down to St. Albans, to scout out the city and NMC facility, sharing what he had learned.

With the pregnancy progressing, the couple applied at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi for American visas, which they obtained quickly.

Upon arrival in St. Albans, establishing a relationship with Northwestern OB/GYN was top priority; Nour’s prenatal charts were transferred to Dr. Leonard Tremblay.

“When we first visited NMC I saw people sitting around by the fireplace. It felt like a home-style type of place, not a hospital,” Nour recalls. “When I first met Dr. Tremblay, he said, ‘This hospital is not big, but it’s not small. We will give you personal care. At the time, I didn’t understand what he meant.”

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