The fate of these families is tough. Most of them don’t have the financial or emotional support that they need to go through their baby being in the NICU, which is the neonatal intensive care unit. These babies are born prematurely or with illnesses. There are outcomes when the baby can go home and live a healthy life, they can go home with complications long term, or they don’t go home at all. This is what’s happening to thousands of newborn babies each year in South Florida.
ICU baby, a non-profit organization, supports these families with a baby or babies in the NICU. They identify what resources would be beneficial and provide special support.
Elizabeth Simonton, co-founder and CEO of ICU baby never thought that a situation like this would happen to her after having her first 2 children. “I got pregnant with my 3rd child, who was a boy and it was a really scary pregnancy,” explained Simonton. She didn’t know what was going to be wrong with him when he was born. The six of her nine months being pregnant, she thought he was going to be born with complications. When she delivered him, he came out to be 9 ½ pounds.
“He was a huge baby, blonde hair, blue eyes, and he seemed to be healthy. But then he became sick and they rushed him off to the NICU.”
While her son was in the NICU, she would sit all day at his isolette (which is like a crib, enclosed by glass, that provides a controlled environment based on each baby’s needs. It has armholes on each side that allow parents to put their hands through to touch their babies. Simonton would see other mom’s there but in more challenging situations.
These challenges are due to the family being financially stricken and they cannot afford to get the hospital or they’re trying to see their baby, work a job, take care other children they have at home and also dealing with the struggles of their baby in the NICU.
Nichole Aldrich, co-founder and President of ICU baby maintains that “having a sick baby is a parent’s worst nightmare, but then adding the stress of balancing a job, other children at home or in school, keeping the house afloat, and the cost of food and transportation…it is extremely difficult.”
Then there are babies that aren’t visited at all. Simonton remembers, “I was there for six days and you see babies that don’t have anyone coming to visit them. It’s not because the parents don’t care. It could be a variety of things, like mentally the parents can’t attach to a baby that might pass from complications, maybe they can’t get there because of transportation costs, maybe they have to return to work.”
This was the perfect storm that made her decide to start an organization in Miami that goes to help these families and that’s how it all came to be. Her partner and ICU baby President, Nichole Aldrich, came on board from the start, along with 2 Founding Board Members, Ani Buraglia and Leah Jayanetti.
Nichole Aldrich says “I lost my baby Matthew at Holtz Children’s Hospital and never thought I would visit the NICU again. But creating an organization that is there for parents who lose their babies and for those whose babies survive, after a difficult journey, is a way to honor and remember my son.”
With the mission to support families with babies in the NICU, ICU baby does that in four ways.
The first is that, every Wednesday, they send in a team of moms who have been NICU parents to go around the NICU bed to bed and talk to the families that are there. “We offer our support, we listen, if they’re having a bad day with the baby we let them cry. Every day is difficult there. We offer parent-to-parent support,” says Simonton.
The second way ICU baby supports the families is to provide NICU Packs. These are big tote bags filled with items that will help the parents care for their baby in the NICU. The bags provide a wrap that allows the parents to hold the baby against their chest, a big cooler for breast milk, a journal to record what’s going on and to write questions for the doctor, and a term sheet to help parents understand doctor‘s and nurse‘s terminology.
The third way of support is hosting monthly dinners within the hospitals. The dinners allow the families to leave the NICU and go to a conference room that’s close by to eat a catered meal provided by one of the restaurants in the city or a family that sponsors the dinner. These dinners also provide a sort of “strength in numbers” of families sitting down, knowing that they’re in the same situation going through this tough time together.
The fourth way of support is providing a monthly stipend for transportation. “In the 2 ½ years that we have been doing this, we’ve noticed one of the reasons why these babies aren’t visited. It’s because the families can’t afford to get there,” says Simonton.
ICU baby decided to fund raise to provide financial assistance to families so they can come visit their baby. They can provide a parking pass to help with parking cost, a gas stipend to help supplement gas costs, bus passes, and if they don’t have a bus in the area ICU baby will provide private transportation to bring families to the hospital.
ICU baby launched the Transportation Assistance Program this summer at Holtz Children’s Hospital. The program is aimed at low income NICU families who are not able to visit their baby often because of the cost of transportation. ICU baby provides bus passes, stipends for parking and gas, and assist with private rides. “Our mission is to get parents to the hospital to visit their babies. Research shows the baby’s health improves more rapidly and babies go home sooner, when parents provide breast milk and perform skin-to-skin contact, which is only possible if the parents visit their sick babies”, says Aldrich.
“We have helped over 2,000 families in 2 1/2 years and we just continue to grow so fast. We’re really proud that our organization is volunteer based we are NICU moms that are going in serving the dinner, going bedside to bedside, delivering the bags, so it’s volunteer based,” says Simonton.
For ICU baby to grow, they need funding and volunteers to pay it forward for the babies.
“These babies are fighters – many of them are so sick and the parents are really struggling whether it’s financially or emotionally or both. The NICU doesn’t discriminate. Babies from every sector of our community can be found in our local NICUs. It’s about educating our community and providing much needed support.”
To support ICU Baby you can go to their website to donate or volunteer. ICU Baby also has two events you can support this September. The first being Bubbles and Baubles at Kendra Scott at Brickell City Centre, September 7th from 6 pm – 9pm. This is a free event kicking off ICU Baby’s fundraiser, Celebration of Miracle’s. This will be a night of complimentary cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and designing personalized jewelry at the Kendra Scott Color Bar. 20% of the sales benefit NICU families.
The main event is Celebration of Miracles, September 23rd at W Hotel Brickell from 8 pm – 11 pm. This is a celebration event for babies that make it out of the NICU and in remembrance of those who don’t and for the families. It won’t be your typical sit down table dinner, so come for the heavy appetizers and a great DJ for a night to remember. For tickets contact firstname.lastname@example.org.