For almost 11 months, no matter what the day, Kimberly Dillard has been a steady presence at the intensive care nursery in Novant Health Hemby Children's Hospital in Charlotte.
The 46-year-old single mother keeps a watchful eye on her young daughter, Willa, who has been hospitalized since birth. Ten-month-old Willa has multiple conditions, including respiratory distress syndrome and congenital heart disease that have kept her from going home.
“She is the best mom ever. She is so dedicated,” said Lillian Furr, one of six primary nurses who provide care to Willa. “Kim’s a hard worker and has had a hard life,” Furr added.
Dillard works the night shift at a large retailer where she provides customer support and supervises restocking, but she spends her days at Willa’s bedside helping with the baby’s special needs, which are considerable. Dillard lost her fiancé, William Henderson, to a massive heart attack when she was three months pregnant. Willa is named for her father.
The nurses took Dillard under their collective wing knowing she was struggling. “Kim will not reach out and ask for help,” Furr said. They collected money and gifts and helped spread the word about the family’s situation throughout the community, from churches to the media.
In preparation for the baby’s release from the ICU, Dillard spent months looking for a suitable place to rent that could accommodate the ventilator and other equipment needed to keep her child alive. “I kept getting turned down because I couldn’t come up with the triple down payment,” Dillard said. Hearing of her trouble, the nurses sprang to work spreading the word in person and via social media.
“Once WBTV anchor Molly Grantham posted our story on her Facebook page, the calls really started coming in,” Dillard said. And things just started falling into place for the mom and her daughter.
After months of searching, a real estate agent found the family an apartment that is affordable and has the proper wiring for the equipment needed to care for Willa.
“It’s overwhelming for me. I am amazed and speechless from the support from the nurses and doctors here, my church and hundreds of people I don’t even know,” Dillard said.
She moved into the new place over the weekend and now she’s preparing to bring her daughter home, too.
“I am ready to start my journey with Willa. It’s going to be wonderful,” Dillard said. She admits she’ll miss the relationships she formed while her daughter was being treated at the hospital.
“I never imagined I could feel so welcomed here. It’s unlike any experience I’ve ever had,” Dillard said.
“I’ll truly miss Willa and Kim,” Furr said, “but it’s time for them to go home.”
As she prepares for her daughter’s arrival at their new home, Dillard worries about how she’ll get Willa and all her medical equipment to doctors’ appointments in her old Camry. Her adult daughter has started a crowdfunding site to raise money for a minivan. If you’d like to help with Willa’s medical expenses, click here.