When we created Jen's Tiny Tots we knew we wanted to help the babies of the NICU, but it took awhile to find our niche. The first hospital we worked with was Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. It was there that our daughter, Jennifer, (1974) and son, Brian, (1975) were born and discharged home healthy and happy.
The "Jennipooh" Teddy Bear
Our first project was the creation of the "Jennipooh" teddy bear in collaboration with the nurses of Sinai's NICU. What is more comforting than a teddy bear?
The Jennifer Gandel Kachura NICU
After creating the "Jennipooh" teddy bear, we were approached by the Department of Development at Sinai Hospital about funding the restoration of the NICU which is now named The Jennifer Gandel Kachura NICU.
During construction, we purchased a Giraffe bed which allows the baby to be treated for jaundice in the same bed without the stress of being moved.
We also provided disposable cameras so families could take pictures of their baby's progress in the NICU. (Should the baby not survive, the parents have pictures to help them remember their baby.)
The NICU was dedicated on March 3, 2005, with a dedication ceremony and a lot of media coverage.
Today, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed, even babies in the NICU. To make feeding more comfortable, we provide Boppy Pillows to the units. The pillow can help support the baby while feeding, it can be used to prop up the baby giving him or her another view of their limited world.
Musical Mobiles and Bouncy Seats
The amount of stimulation a baby receives while in the NICU is also limited. To help increase both visual and auditory stimulation, we provide musical mobiles, musical crib toys and other colorful toys that can be hung above the isolette. Stimulation is part of the building blocks a child needs for proper development. The music in the toys often helps soothe a fussy baby as it would if he or she were home. We also provide bouncy seats which rock the baby, while providing a different view of her world. These items are not very expensive, but the foundation sends them home with the baby and must routinely be replaced.
Sinai Hospital Donation Wall
Sinai requested our help in building a Donation Wall. It is a permanent wall on which those who make donations to the NICU can be engraved. We pledged the
$ 20,000.00 and the wall has been built.
Bethesda Memorial and Johns Hopkins
Over the years, we have been able to add Bethesda Memorial Hospital NICU in Boynton Beach, Florida and the NICU at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.
As we worked with the different hospitals we created new programs. Some of these programs are in all three hospitals while others are hospital specific.
In the beginning, the Jennipooh bears and cameras were given to all three hospitals. At Bethesda and Sinai we purchased digital cameras and printers for special pictures.
As medical knowledge has grown, smaller and smaller babies are surviving, but their stays in the NICU can be months long and fraught with stress. From personal experience I can tell you going home without your baby is hard. Every minute you wonder how your baby is doing. Every time the phone rings, you jump fearing the worst.
Specialized Training for NICU Nurses
At the request of Johns Hopkins, we have joined with them to sponsor specialized training programs for the nursing staff. As the benefits of massage for preemies has become more accepted, we agreed to pay for the necessary textbooks and mannequin for each nurse wanting to be trained. As new techniques have been developed, geared for the premature and sick baby, we have agreed to pay for additional training. The nurses use these techniques in the nursery to help reduce stress and help increase growth. The nurses also train the parents so that they can continue the benefits of massage at home.
Programs for Grieving Parents
Grief is a lifelong process. We have been involved with several programs to help support the grieving family. At Sinai, we sponsored a grief packet which list resources and provides information to grieving parents. Each fall we sponsor a Remembrance Ceremony open to any parent who has lost a child. It is a chance for the families to talk to other families who have suffered a similar tragedy. Through the Johns Hopkins Child Life Program, age related items are put in a special bag and given to the siblings to help them deal with the grief process.
Programs to Faciliate Bonding
It is very hard to bond with a baby you can't even hold. Some babies are so small or so sick that the parent can only touch their baby through the porthole in the isolette. It is important that the parent be there in the NICU to talk to and to touch as often as possible. Johns Hopkins receives babies from all over the state. Even the parents who live close to the hospital have to deal with the expenses of parking or public transportation and food. These costs can stress a family on a limited income. We created a fund where the staff can provide parents with money to help cover these expenses. Though there are rooms where parents can sleep in the hospital; on rare occasions a hotel room is needed which we will pay for. Holding, rocking, hugging and talking to your baby helps them thrive. Recently, we were able to replace all the rocking chairs in Sinai's NICU.
Leaving the NICU with Your Baby
Going home is a very special day for both parent and child. Some babies only spend days in the NICU while others spend months. For some parents, it is a day they feared would never happen. Some families do not have extra money to buy a new outfit for the special day. We purchase a variety of outfits and the parent can pick the outfit of their choice. Recently, we have begun receiving clothes that we can give to the preemie mothers at Bethesda Memorial. The clothes are generously donated by Nikilia Designs. The clothes are given to mothers in need, or if the baby gets vomit on the mothers clothes she is able to change into clean clothes.
The Jennifer Gandel Kachura Foundation
11103 Boca Woods Lane
Boca Raton, Florida 33428