MINNEAPOLIS — "I feel like it's a hidden gem within this huge hospital that we have here." The neonatal intensive care unit treats the tiniest, most vulnerable patients at Hennepin Healthcare.
"We would love to have parents here all the time with their babies and bonding with them and enjoying them. But, with COVID, too, having other things on the outside world happening, it's not always possible, explained Nicole Kunstleben, a NICU nurse.
That's why she and her fellow nurses are crafting a way for families to stay connected. They make, collect and distribute tiny fabric hearts that carry mom, dad, and baby scents.
"Mom will put one on her skin, and we'll put one with baby against their face or just in with them in their bed. And then, when mom comes to visit, we just switch them out, so mom has the baby scent, and then the baby has mom scent for when mom is not able to be here," said Kunstleben.
"I feel like it's something really special that they can do for their baby, and I mean, it's something very small, but very big to them."
The project wouldn't be possible without community donations, volunteers, and the staff putting time, energy and love into each cloth heart.
"I feel like we serve such a diverse population here that this is something universal across all cultures, all languages," emphasized Kunstleben.
Now parents and baby can know their hearts, by heart.
There are a lot of volunteer opportunities at Hennepin Healthcare. For example, there's the hearts project, creating blankets, hats, and memory boxes for NICU families.
Soon, Hennepin Healthcare will start a reading program for babies.
If you'd like to help with these programs, visit this link.