TINY HANDS: Helping Babies Born Early

A baby’s birth is a joyful time. But, it can also be stressful, especially when the newborn comes much earlier than expected. Nearly one out of nine babies arrives at least three weeks before his or her due date. Preemies born especially early require an extended stay in the intensive care nursery. One group is trying to make that journey a little easier.

Like most little boys, Jack Selby likes playing games on his parent’s phone. Mom Susan says, “Here he is, just a ball of fire.”

You wouldn’t guess he spent the first two and half months of his life in Mercy Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU. Mrs. Selby says, “I remember sitting at Jack’s bedside just wishing and hoping and praying that one day he would be running outside in the backyard.”

Jack was born at 25 weeks, 15 weeks early.  His mom developed HELLP Syndrome, a form of Preeclampsia. Selby says, “The only cure for it is to deliver the baby.”

Dad Bob shows a picture saying, “This was taken when Jack was four days old. He weighed 1 pound 11 ounces.”

A few years later his brother Tommy came along. He was born twelve weeks early and spent 120 days in the hospital. Mr. Selby says, “It becomes kind of a bittersweet experience. It’s a joyful experience because a new life has come into the world. And, yet it is very, very stressful because the baby is going to have significant challenges for a period of time.”

Three years ago, Bob and Susan decided to make the journey easier for others. They and another family started the Holding Tiny Hands Foundation. Bob Selby says, “We call it a roller coaster ride. And, we try to think of our foundation as a seatbelt.”

The Holding Tiny Hands Foundation serves a meal every month outside the NICU at Mercy Medical Center. They serve about 50 families every month at Mercy. They serve about 30 at Blank Children’s Hospital. Mr. Selby says, “We serve over 300 families in a year total.”

Donations from local companies pay for the catered monthly meals, along with bags that are given to the families. Susan Selby shows the contents saying, “Kleenex to dry the tears of a long day.”

The bags also include a journal to record milestones, puzzle book to pass the time, preemie reference book to help prepare and a very tiny onesie. Mrs. Selby says, “When Tommy and Jack were in these they swam in them.”

The group doesn’t just do this because it feels good to help others. The Selbys point to research showing the support eases parents’ anxiety and depression and shortens a baby’s stay in the NICU. Mr. Selby says, “We can share with them our experiences. We’re not experts. But, we’re experts in our story.”

It’s a story they share to give others hope. Mrs. Selby says, “During the Kindergarten year this past year, he finally officially was caught up, and so we’re very grateful for that.”

The Selbys say they’re looking to expand the Holding Tiny Hands Foundation to NICU’s in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. Click here for more information.

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