Group crafts year-round for premature babies

Columbus Dispatch


When Ohio State hosts Michigan in Ohio Stadium on Saturday, Kacie and Chris Waugh will watch the football game on television at the nearby Wexner Medical Center.

The Grove City couple will be in the OSU neonatal intensive-care unit tending their newborns — quadruplets Dylan, Jackson, Millie and Owen — who, like their parents, will exude Buckeye pride.

All the tiny patients in the unit, in fact, have been outfitted for the past two weeks in OSU hats, sleep sacks, onesies or bootees and covered in Buckeye blankets and quilts.

“They’re recruiting them young,” joked Mr. Waugh, a 31-year-old who works at the hospital in information technology.

The handmade items came courtesy of Touching Little Lives, a nonprofit organization that crafts baby necessities year-round — including the seasonal Ohio State-themed items recently donated to some of the 48 hospitals and clinics that the agency serves throughout the state.

“It’s very nice for people to do that for the babies in the NICU, especially since we’re at Ohio State,” said Mrs. Waugh, a 26-year-old lawyer who received an undergraduate degree from the university. “It will be very festive in here.”

Touching Little Lives, founded in 2000 by a Circle-ville woman, has about 110 regular volunteers throughout central Ohio who dedicate thousands of hours annually to making handmade items for preemies such as the Waugh quadruplets as well as newborns from low-income families.

By year’s end, the organization expects to donate its 1-millionth item.

Last year, it gave more than 31,000 blankets, bootees and hats to hospitals.

“Everything we give goes home with the family,” said treasurer Sally Bricker, a longtime volunteer with four stepchildren. “It’s not the hospital’s inventory. It’s not washed and given to another patient.”

The basement of her home in Groveport is filled with bags of brightly colored finished garments and shelves of fabric featuring fire engines, pink bows and other prints.

The special-education teacher runs three of the six work groups in the Columbus area that meet monthly to sew and assemble items. The chairwoman in Lancaster, retired nurse Linda Marshall, leads the other three.

Volunteers also work independently to finish products or create pieces to be assembled later. Some women buy their own supplies; donations and grants cover the rest.

Bricker describes the operation as a “pony express.”

“There’s one gal who cuts out 6- to 8-inch squares. They go to a group in Chillicothe that makes the quilt tops; then another group puts the backs on.”

At a meeting, some volunteers might only attach snaps to bibs and onesies, and others might only tie fleece blankets. The women also are encouraged to be creative — a reason that many get involved.

“You don’t have to come and do what we say,” Bricker said. “Do what you’re good at.”

Marshall started sewing for the group in 2006, after she retired from Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Since then, her responsibilities — much like Bricker’s — have “boomeranged.”

“I just enjoyed it,” Marshall said. “After our founder [Marianne Doty] retired and left the state, somebody had to do it.”

Besides the social outlet of the work, Marshall said, she relishes the joy that the items offer. Bricker often is reduced to tears, she said, by the heartfelt thank-you notes and email she receives from parents.

Jeannie Toops, a NICU nurse at the Wexner Medical Center, has seen firsthand how much people appreciate the gifts.

“Typically, to get to the NICU, it’s been a very traumatic couple of hours — couple of days — for the parents,” Toops said. “It’s nice to know someone is thinking of them.”

Given the intimidating tubes and monitors used in the unit, she said, quilts and blankets bearing ducks or teddy bears help warm the environment. And clothes that actually fit the preemies and have special snaps that allow wires help facilitate the bonding experience for babies and parents.

“It puts a human touch on the NICU,” Toops said.

The items have practical uses, too: The quilts help keep incubators dark and “soundproof,” and serve as identifiers for parents. Sleep sacks promote safe-sleeping habits; and babies in clothes can regulate their body temperatures sooner, decreasing their time in incubators.

Not until last fall did Touching Little Lives make a concerted effort to go “scarlet and gray” ahead of the OSU-Michigan game.

“We always like to do something to keep our volunteers interested,” Bricker said. “Different projects like this let their creative juices flow.”

Plus, she reasoned, OSU gifts would be even more of a keepsake for many families.

The Waugh children — who arrived Nov. 5 at 32 weeks, weighing 2 pounds 14 ounces (Millie) to 4 pounds 4 ounces (Jackson) — provide a case in point.

When they finally make it home — their parents hope that day arrives before Christmas — the Buckeye quilts and other items will remain with them for a long time, Mrs. Waugh said.

“We’ll probably use them in their room,” she said. “[And] they’ll be a nice memory for them to have when they’re older.”

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