Elizabeth mother create's something good from something bad
By Jodi Weigand
Little things like having a pen, notepad and tissues are the last things parents think about when their infant is in the neonatal intensive care unit.
And those little necessities are missed once the initial upset of having a sick baby passes.
"When you get there, you're totally unprepared, and you don't have anything you need," said Kate Crawford of Elizabeth, whose four children all spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU.
Crawford, 26, co-founded Project Sweet Pea, a nationwide network of mothers who take gift bags to NICUs. There are 15 local projects in 14 states and Canada. Since July 2009, Project Sweet Pea has delivered 350 gift bags to families across the United States.
"We stick as much as we can into these bags that will help parents get through at least a couple of days," said Crawford, who delivers the care bags to Magee-Women's Hospital of UPMC and Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. She and her family make the bags and ship them to other moms, who are responsible for filling them.
Crawford's bags contain handmade baby blankets, booties and hats, toiletries, a camera and crossword puzzles to help pass the time while the baby sleeps. They can cost up to $50 to make, Crawford said.
"It's something that others who went before them know about, but that they don't even realize they need at the time," said Karen Ewing, a unit director of Magee-Women's NICU. "The staff are grateful to be able to give something to families in those situations. It really comes in handy."
Many mothers who have started projects have children who are NICU survivors, while others use the project to keep their babies' memories alive. Crawford has experienced both.
She and her husband, Steven's, twin daughters, Grace and Lily, 20 months, spent two weeks in Magee-Women's NICU and son Stephen, 4 months, was there for 19 days.
About three years ago, their 3-day-old daughter, Shannon, passed away at Children's due to birth defects in her diaphragm and heart.
A year after that, Crawford connected online with two other mothers, from Connecticut and Indiana, whose babies each had one of the same birth defects.
"We decided there was something more we wanted to do," she said. And Project Sweet Pea was born. Crawford's project is known locally as Shannon's Star.
"After Shannon died, I had no support, no comfort and no friends who had gone through the same thing," she said. "I don't want any parents to feel like I did after Shannon died."
In addition to care bags, Crawford makes papier-mache memory boxes for parents. They contain a broken heart pendant, a heart-shaped box for a wisp of the baby's hair and tins in which parents can make hand and foot molds.
Wilma Powell, a registered nurse and clinical leader in Children's Hospital's NICU said it's a beautiful way to help parents cope with the loss of a child.
"We just lost a child (Monday), and the mother is so grateful she has something for her other children to remember the baby," Powell said. "It means a lot to us to provide that kind of support for a family."
Crawford does it all with the help of her family, including her husband, parents, sister, niece and nephew, who are NICU survivors.
"So many bad things happen to people and they can take that experience and turn it into something beautiful like what we've done," she said. "I believe that (Shannon) died so that we could help other parents."