Wednesday, November 23, 2016

World Prematurity Day - Fight Like a Preemie!


Since 2011, we celebrate World Prematurity Day on November 17th. We "celebrate" this day to bring awareness to premature birth and the obstacles that these infants face throughout their lives. Each year, approximately 15 million children worldwide are born premature, and premature birth remains the leading cause of death for children under 5 around the world (defined as a birth prior to the 37th week of pregnancy). These kids face lifelong health issues, such as breathing problems, vision loss, and developmental delays while their conditions take their toll on their families. (Source: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs363/en/)

As a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) nurse, I witness firsthand the miracle of the premature infant. As small and fragile as they can be, they are some of the toughest patients we encounter.  Whatever conditions life throws at them, they accept them as normal and carry on. They overcome deadly illnesses with a spirit that is unexplainable. They can melt your heart with wide eyes, a finger grasp, and a smile despite that breathing tube that they must depend on to live. They have an innate desire to live and survive that is beyond admirable.

Even though our goal is to never have any baby or family show up in our unit, we are honored to provide the best care possible to these infants and their families if they need our services. But we can't do it alone. How can a person help these tremendous little fighters on their journeys?

1.  Consider donating to your local hospital's NICU. In the NICU, we are constantly running short on cute clothing (but please no zippers - our kiddos have tubes and wires that must poke out of their clothes), baby blankets, and especially infant swings. We would be happy to take these things off of your hands and put them to good use! As soon as we can put clothes on the babies, or put them in a swing, we do it - it helps the families have "normal" perceptions of their babies despite the NICU experience.

2.  If a monetary donation isn't possible, how about an investment of time? Many hospitals will allow you to become a volunteer (after a background check), which allows you to interact with our babies by holding, reading, or playing with them. I can say firsthand that volunteers are LIFESAVERS in our unit, especially with babies who cry if they aren't being held constantly (which unfortunately most nurses don't have the time to do). Many volunteers consider their time in the NICU the highlight of their day, and the babies LOVE human interaction.

3. If you know a family that has a baby in the NICU, offer support. Families still have responsibilities, such as jobs and other children, that keep them from spending as much time as possible with their new babies in the NICU. Help out by making meals, providing child care, offering to care for animals or homes - basically anything that will free up time to spend being a parent to their NICU baby.  NICU babies have much better outcomes when their families are present to provide care, hold them skin-to-skin, and give them lots of love.

4. Get involved. The premature baby's go-to organization for funding and research is March of Dimes, and they organize an annual "March for Babies" fundraiser that many NICU healthcare workers and families participate in. We welcome anyone who wishes to join us!

5. Educate yourself. For those of you that are interested in what life in the NICU really looks like, I urge you to watch the powerful documentary Little Man by Nicole Conn. This film is a disturbing yet accurate depiction of the NICU experience with an extremely premature infant, from major medical setbacks to the turmoil of a family's new normal with a medically complex infant. Bring tissues.

With everyone's assistance, the NICU experience can be overcome for these precious children to live the best lives possible. Just take a look at this video, shared by Chris Pratt and his wife Anna Faris, of their own happy ending to a premature birth.


Let's help these kiddos "fight like preemies!"

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