The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Danville News

October 3, 2013

Mentoring program: NICU veterans aid new parents

DANVILLE — Parents of newborn babies expect to be able to take their child home as soon as possible. When that doesn’t happen, it can be a very scary experience.

Parents of babies that have to spend their first several weeks or months in a neonatal intensive care unit are faced with questions most don’t even think about.

To help combat this, Geisinger is offering to pair these new mothers and fathers up with more experienced parents who can offer some valuable insight.

“A NICU baby may have a colostomy and the new mother may have several questions, such as ‘How many colostomy bags do you use a day?’, ‘Can I take my baby to the grocery store?’, ‘What type of adhesive works the best?’, ” said Kelly Hammaker, patient and family centered care coordinator at Geisinger’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital. “With the network of NICU parents, all these questions can be answered by someone who has faced the same struggles before.”

Geisinger is one of only four hospitals in the state of Pennsylvania to offer such a service.

Their program differs from similar hospital programs that connect parents in that Geisinger’s pulls from a pool of local parents who all have children that have gone through the Janet Weis NICU.

“Having someone who has been through this NICU will be much more specific and helpful to the family,” said Phoebe Beckley, the March of Dimes NICU family support coordinator for Geisinger Medical Center.

What kicked off interest in providing a parent support program was the NICU family reunion, held March of this past year. At that event, 30 families who had children that went through the NICU were in attendance and 22 decided to go through the program and become mentors. “We had an overwhelming response at the reunion,” Hammaker said. Many of the families said they wished such a program had existed when they had children in the NICU.

Its stressful to have a child put through the NICU so shortly after they are born, Beckley said. “That immediate separation is very scary. … Unless you’ve been through it, you can’t understand that.”

Tara Lorson, of Jersey Shore, has been dealing with that separation for just short of 200 days, when her daughter, Harper, was born. Now six-months old, Harper still has not left Janet Weis Children’s Hospital and is receiving treatment related to premature birth and possessing an unbalanced translocation of chromosomes.

Lorson makes the trip every day to visit her daughter. “Interstate 80 is my home,” she said.

She and her husband, Nicholas, are still unsure what long-term health effects Harper will endure due to the unique chromosome issues she has. “We hadn’t been able to find anyone with similar conditions to what Harper has,” Lorson said.

However, the peer-to-peer group has been able to help her by connecting her with a parent whose child has similar complications to Harper, which include requiring a feeding tube and a tracheotomy.

In addition to telling Lorson how to prepare her house for when Harper arrives home, the mentor has helped Lorson and her husband find support groups at other hospitals where Harper may require treatment.

“It’s been truly a blessing to have parents who are going through a similar thing,” Lorson said. “Just to have someone who can relate to that as well is comforting.”

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