As a pediatric and neonatal nurse, Jennifer Krassinger has worked closely with families in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) since 1999, helping them understand their infants’ medical conditions from a clinical perspective and teaching them how to take care of a critically ill child both in and out of the hospital.
Yet, as Krassinger grew closer to these families, she began to see that their struggles went far beyond the NICU doors. “What I think people don’t realize is that when babies are very sick or extremely premature, they spend several months, or in rare cases, their first year in intensive care,” she explained. “It’s literally life-changing, putting the family in crisis immediately.”
When a family has a child in the NICU, the parents put their lives on hold to be at their babies’ bedsides. Yet, there are still bills that have to be paid, groceries that need to be bought – stresses which become incredibly difficult when your heart, your time and your finances are focused on your child’s survival.
As the holiday season approached in 2005, Krassinger wondered how she could help NICU families in the most desperate situations: The young parents without a strong support system at home or the families who faced a Christmas without presents for their children due to mounting hospital bills.
She began rallying her friends and family to join her in a special Holiday Project, and that year, one family with a child in the Cardinal Glennon NICU was provided an incredible Christmas they never could have experienced on their own.
Over the next six years, Krassinger’s family project grew into a community effort, assisting more than 12 families. In 2011, her organization, Giving is a Family Tradition (GiFT), became a registered nonprofit, serving families referred by social workers at Cardinal Glennon as well as Mercy Children's Hospital and Saint Louis Children's Hospital.
This July, the community is invited to join GiFT in expanding its programs to help parents handle the unexpected expenses that occur when their littlest one is born too soon.
Helping families throughout the year
While GiFT has been a lifeline during the holidays, a family’s emotional and physical stress isn’t limited to December. When a child is born premature, there’s a good chance the family hasn’t had the opportunity to stock the baby’s nursery, and when they spend their days and nights at the NICU, there simply isn’t time to shop for the necessities. Such was the case for another Jennifer, one of the moms GiFT helped this past year.
At only 26 weeks, Jennifer went into labor with her twin girls, Faith and Patience. Born at 2 lb., 2 oz., and 1 lb., 13.5 oz., the babies spent a roller coaster 14 weeks in Cardinal Glennon’s NICU, hooked up to monitors, breathing machines and feeding tubes.
“Being that we expected four more months to get the home ready for our babies, this really took us by surprise and we were definitely unprepared,” said Jennifer via email. “We barely had anything for one, let alone two, babies.”
Buoyed by the response from its Holiday Project, GiFT launched its first project as a nonprofit – Destination Home – to help Jennifer and other families in the NICU facing a financial crisis prepare their nurseries for when their precious babies can finally leave the hospital.
“We’re getting these families set up to take care of their babies once they’re ready to go home,” Krassinger said. “Many families are in situations where they would either go without necessities or they would have to sacrifice something else to be able to purchase items.
"We’re trying to help these families create a safe environment for these fragile babies. When babies are born prematurely and spend four months in the NICU, they may not be as healthy as a full-term newborn. They are often at risk for infections and respiratory problems. GiFT helps create a safe environment for them to thrive at home.”
GiFT took one less worry off Jennifer’s mind, stocking her home with car seats, bedding and other necessities. “They were a true blessing, especially due to my circumstances," she said. On top of all that they provided for our family, they came back about a month later and delivered 12 boxes of diapers and several cases of wipes. A true blessing. I am now a lifetime supporter of GiFT and everything they stand for.”
Another obstacle for families is finding the resources to visit their newborns in the NICU. According to Krassinger, because the three NICUs GiFT serves are regional neonatology centers, families travel from throughout the bi-state region to be with their children – a considerable cost due to high gas prices. Even parents right here in St. Louis may not be able to afford to fill up their car to travel to a hospital across town. GiFT’s latest project, and one that desperately needs donations, GiFT Gets You There, is now accepting gas cards, Metro vouchers and financial donations to help ease transportation costs for these families.
On July 27, you can lend a hand to families in the area hospitals’ NICU by joining GiFT for its Not Your Momma’s Trivia Night fundraising event. This interactive game night features two rounds of trivia plus your favorite games, including The Price is Right and Minute to Win It, as well as a silent auction and attendance prizes.
Childcare for kids over two years old is also available, though space is limited. Not Your Momma’s Trivia will be held at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 S. Geyer Rd, beginning at 6:30 p.m. For more information on flaunting your pop culture knowledge to help a family in need, visit www.givingisafamilytradition.org.
By Nicole Plegge, Lifestyle Blogger for SmartParenting
Photo of GIFT volunteers courtesy of Jennifer Krassinger.