Keri Echols (left) was among dozens of parents who received gift baskets in the neonatal intensive care unit at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville on Christmas Eve. The baskets were prepared and delivered by former NICU moms Madison Allen of Gainesville (center) and Amber Loudermilk of Mt. Airy.
They may not be home for Christmas, but thirty Northeast Georgia families are feeling a little closer to home today thanks to the generosity of strangers.
On Christmas Eve, two local moms delivered Christmas baskets to them in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.
Madison Allen and Amber Loudermilk put together the baskets with the help of money and items donated by people in Habersham County and surrounding communities.
The two friends organized their effort under the banner ‘NICU Strong’. They even made onesies for the babies emblazoned with the phrase. As they handed them out to the NICU parents on Tuesday, the catch-phrase captured the reality and hope of those anxiously waiting to bring their babies home.
“It’s hard,” says Keri Echols of Lula, her eyes welling up with tears. “We still want to celebrate with our family, but we’ll be here.” Despite her yearning for home, Echols knows that it’s here, amidst the tubes and the monitors surrounded by an attentive medical staff, that her 8-week old daughter Isabella needs to be.
Born at 27 weeks, Isabella weighed just 1 pound 13 ounces when she came into the world. She’s now up to 4 pounds 11 ounces and is learning how to feed. “Slowly but surely she’s getting there,” says her mom.
It’s the slow part of healing that’s so draining on NICU families: The long days of worry that melt into sleepless nights. Elizabeth Reece of Cleveland knows the cycle all too well. She spent time in the NICU when her daughter Catherine was born. Now, she’s back in the NICU with her daughter and newborn grandson Bryson.
As Allen and Loudermilk present Catherine with her basket, Elizabeth watches as her daughter smiles through her tears. “We’re both NICU moms, so, we can relate,” Allen says. “We just wanted to share some joy.”
“That really means a lot to know that other people on the outside are thinking about you besides just the main ones involved,” says the elder Reece. “There’s others out there that know exactly how you feel because they’ve been there.”
As the gift-bearing moms head back into the hallway, Reece thanks them for the basket and joy they brought to her daughter. “Just to get to see her finally smile for a minute,” she says.
It’s clear she got a gift too.
Even the NICU staff members working this holiday helping others’ loved ones while away from their own are inspired by the gesture.
“I just think it’s very loving and caring and showing that there still is goodwill on earth,” says Mary Lou Wilson, Director of Women’s and Children’s Services at NGMC Gainesville.
Allen calls the experience “super rewarding.” She and Loudermilk extend their thanks to everyone who donated to make it possible. As they head home to their babies they express the hope that the moms they leave behind will one day soon be able to do the same.