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Volunteer gives back to hospital with hand-made hats for preemies

by Carolyn Pennington - December 3, 2007

Ever since her son Brandon was born prematurely in August 1985, Sue Murphy of Wallingford has been a regular supporter of the Newborn Intensive Care Nursery at the Health Center.

Even though Brandon died, Murphy always appreciated the professional care and warm support he received while he was in the NICN.

Murphy, who teaches art at Holy Trinity School in Wallingford, wanted to do more than give monetary support.

She wanted to use her talents as an artist and teacher to do something special for the babies in the NICN.

“One of the fondest memories of my son was when my husband and I went to the hospital to see him and he was wearing a beautiful knit hat that his nurse had made him,” says Murphy.

“He just looked so adorable and more like a full-term baby. This is the feeling that I wish for all those who receive these beanies.”

Maureen Guzzi, nurse manager in the NICN, says the Newborn Intesive Care experience has a profound impact on both parents and staff.

Many of the relationships that are formed with the families are life long.”

Murphy’s project “shows the long-term impact and positive connections we make with people in our community,” she adds.

Murphy enlisted her art class to help with her idea. She thought knitting the hats would be too time-consuming, so the students make the beanies out of socks. (The babies’ heads are so small, four hats can be made out of one pair of socks.)

Then the students decorate each one with sparkly ribbons, delicate lace, or fabric footballs – depending whether it’s for a girl or boy.

Along with the beanies comes a card from the young maker of the beanie and a printed insert from Murphy explaining why she started the project.

So far, Murphy and her students have made more than 40 hats. The response from parents has been extremely positive.

“What a wonderful idea! They are so cute, and when she was first born this was the only cap that fit her,” says Janet Klos of Ledyard.

Her daughter Kathryn was born at 29 weeks and weighed just over two pounds.

Janet Klos of Ledyard, seated, holding her daughter Kathryn, with Sue Murphy. Kathryn is wearing a beanie made by Murphy’s art students.
Janet Klos of Ledyard, seated, holding her daughter Kathryn, with Sue Murphy. Kathryn is wearing a beanie made by Murphy’s art students.
Photo by Carolyn Pennington

“It was a nice surprise receiving such a precious and personal gift,” Klos adds.

“I also enjoyed reading the handwritten card from the student – that was extra special. I think Katie looks so adorable in her beanie, but I’m afraid she has almost outgrown it.”

Jeanne Lattanzio, family support specialist in the NICN and the nurse who distributes the beanies to new parents, says the babies quickly grow out of the beanies.

“That’s a good thing,” she says, “Because it means the baby is healthy and thriving. But once they’ve outgrown them, many parents put the beanies in their baby’s scrapbook or treasure box.”

Ellen Leone, associate vice president of operations and director of nursing, says the American Hospital Association encourages strong connections between hospitals and the communities they serve.

“This is a good example of that,” she says. The impact that our newborn intensive care staff has on babies and their families makes a lifelong impression.”

While the beanies are a fun fashion statement, they also serve an important purpose.

“The babies really need their heads covered, especially when they spend time out of their isolette,” says Lattanzio. “They lose a lot of body heat through the head.”

Murphy says research has shown that wearing clothes has been proven to increase premature children’s weight and improve parent/infant attachment.

“The beanies are not only cute but necessary,” says Murphy.

She also finds them an appropriate remembrance for her son and the nurses who took care of him.

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