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Health Center Auxiliary steps in to help families of preemies

by Chris DeFrancesco - May 5, 2008

Ever since he came into the world as a 1-pound, 6-ounce infant – nearly three months premature – Ethan Joseph Nash has been in the Health Center’s Newborn Intensive Care Nurseries.

But his prognosis is very good, and it’s possible that by the end of May, his parents will be able to take him home to Prairieville, La., some 1,500 miles away.

Toya Nash ended up at the Health Center because she was in Connecticut on business when her water broke March 6.

Her husband Joe got to her bedside that night. Eleven days later, Ethan was born via emergency cesarean section.

Connecticut has become the Nashes’ temporary home, and all the while they’ve been out of work. They have no relatives in the area, so the only way the family could stay together for any length of time would be for the new parents to stay in a hotel.

Joe Nash says he was faced with the options of finding a hotel, handing over a credit card, and hoping that by the time the credit card was maxed out, the baby would be ready to go home, or draining the family’s savings, or going home and leaving his wife and baby behind.

Toya Nash’s employer agreed to put the couple up at the Homewood Suites on Farm Glen Boulevard, about a half-mile from the Health Center, until March 31. After that, she and her husband had to fend for themselves.

Because of their exceptional circumstances, however, the Nashes were able to get assistance from the Lavey Family Fund, available to families in the Newborn Intensive Care Nurseries (formerly known as the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or NICU) to help with their expenses. And by mid-April, the Nashes were back at Homewood Suites.

“Not having to go back home is important, because my son is here,” Joe Nash says.

“This is my first child. You want to be there with your baby. You want to be directly involved in his treatment, his diagnosis, his condition, his daily updates, you want to be able so see him ... It’s so nice being able to say, ‘I can be here, I can support my wife,’ and vice versa, she can support me.”

The Nashes are an exceptional case. The Lavey Family Fund is unable to accommodate all parents in need of an extended hotel stay while their baby is in the Newborn Intensive Care Nurseries.

But soon, more families in this type of situation will have similar options.

The UConn Health Center Auxiliary has reached an agreement with Homewood Suites that, starting July 1, the hotel will set aside a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit exclusively for families of preterm babies in the care of the Newborn Intensive Care Nurseries.

Toya and Joe Nash of Prairieville, La., with their son, Ethan Joseph, who was born prematurely. At left is Irene Engel, left, facilitator of the Health Center Auxiliary.
Toya and Joe Nash of Prairieville, La., with their son, Ethan Joseph, who was born prematurely. At left is Irene Engel, left, facilitator of the Health Center Auxiliary, which is starting a new program to help families with accommodations while their child is in the Newborn Intensive Care Nurseries.
Photo by Chris DeFrancesco

The Auxiliary is paying $47,000 a year for the accommodations, which will be provided to the families at no cost.

Homewood Suites also will provide daily breakfast, dinner Monday through Thursday, access to its pool and exercise room, wireless Internet, and free shuttle service to and from the Health Center.

The 750-square-foot suite can be shared by two families. Need will be determined by physicians, nurses, and social workers.

“This is probably the greatest gift the Auxiliary can give to the Newborn Intensive Care Nurseries,” says Jeanne Lattanzio, coordinator of the March of Dimes Neonatal Family Support Program.

“The fact that the parents can stay near to their babies and not have the financial burden is incredible. Having a place to stay close by enables them to be at the bedside, participating in their babies’ care and learning about their needs.”

John Dempsey Hospital does have four family rooms for use by parents of infants in the Newborn Intensive Care Nurseries.

“But,” says nursing manager Maureen Guzzi, “those often are used for grieving parents, whose babies are the sickest of the sick and may only have one night. For babies with a more favorable prognosis, who may be in our care for several weeks, we don’t always have enough space for those parents.”

Auxiliary facilitator Irene Engel says the new arrangement will address a real need. “I’m very happy about this, very proud we were able to pull this off,” she says.

Penny boxes have started to appear throughout the Health Center campus. Engel says the change collected will go toward a plaque for the door and other ways to “make it our own, with things like baby pictures and little gifts and trinkets in the room for the families.”

Additionally, the Auxiliary is seeking ideas for a name for the suite and has a suggestion box in the Connucopia Gift Shop.

The winning name will be announced at the Auxiliary’s annual meeting on June 24.

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