The smallest patients are celebrating the holidays in grand style.
Babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina have donned festive gear as the holidays fast approach. Their outfits included red hats and Santa costumes trimmed in white, knitted green snowflake hats, blankets and colorful bibs with “My First Christmas” stitching.
Preemies of the Carolinas, a nonprofit run by volunteer Jennifer Opferman, put together the packets for families, which also included fluffy purple socks, books, writing journals and inspirational hearts.
”It’s great seeing them excited about having some type of normalcy on the holidays,” Opferman said. “I enjoy making them feel like they’re supported, even in the gloomiest times."
Presbyterian Medical Center is the first NICU that Opferman worked with. She began in 2015, and her organization has grown to provide gifts to nine NICUs. She and several volunteers also send packets to parents nationwide who have a baby in the NICU. Opferman estimates more than 4,000 families have received packets on Valentine’s Day, Easter, July 4th, Halloween and Christmas.
Several local groups donate handmade outfits, including Christmas hats, to babies in the NICU at Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The hospital has 56 NICU beds and treats more than 1,200 babies annually. It held a special NICU celebration during the solar eclipse in August 2017.
Opferman’s inspirational hearts, made of fabric, are worn against the mother’s skin for 24 hours. Then, it’s placed in the crib, helping the baby become familiar with Mom’s scent.
“Hopefully it makes the mothers feel like they can be with their baby even when they’re apart,” Opferman said.
“We are so thankful for Preemies of the Carolinas,” said Rebekah Sutton, whose daughter Aubrey is in the NICU. “Spending the holiday season in the hospital is not easy, but receiving the gift bag full of Christmas goodies has made it a little bit easier. I love being able to dress my daughter up in her little Santa outfit.”
Opferman doesn’t have any children, and volunteers her time while working fulltime for American Airlines. Opferman’s idea began when she spent most of a five-day stint in a hospital alone following surgery and complications.
“I was by myself, but imagine being a child here every day,” she said. “These families have become family to me. I care about them, I check on them and I pray for them.”
Top photo: James Engel in his holiday costume.
You will find a range of critical care services for newborns and infants in a Novant Health neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Our providers work to give your baby a chance to go home healthy.
Robin Baltimore and Greg Sullivan contributed to this article.