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Mill Creek Junior Leaders’ project benefits infants in NICU

The Mill Creek Junior Leaders Club collected Valentine's gifts for the NICU at Huntsville Hospital. (CONTRIBUTED)
The Mill Creek Junior Leaders Club collected Valentine’s gifts for the NICU at Huntsville Hospital. (CONTRIBUTED)

MADISON – The Junior Leaders Club at Mill Creek Elementary School organized a Valentine’s Day service project for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Huntsville Hospital.

The club’s fifth- and sixth-graders chose the NICU over other project options. They made fliers labeled “Sweet Treats for Sweet Hearts” to collect candy and asked peers for shoeboxes.

“We then wrapped, stuffed and decorated 65 Valentine boxes that were placed at the babies’ bedsides in the NICU,” sponsor and kindergarten teacher Tosa Swearingen said. About 50 babies usually are in the NICU.

In 2013, Jennifer Baeder, formerly the NICU parent specialist, asked Swearingen about having students make Valentine cards. Many classes responded, and Swearingen brought the idea to Junior Leaders.

Due to snow, their field trip to Huntsville Hospital didn’t materialize, but Heather Green, NICU family support specialist, visited Mill Creek. Green “gave helpful and emotional insight into the NICU’s interworkings. She shared photos of the tiny babies,” Swearingen said.

Green brought a pound of sausage to show how small the babies are. “She handed her wedding ring to one student and asked her to place it on her wrist. Heather then showed a photo of a baby wearing the wedding ring around her wrist and ankle,” Swearingen said.

For fun, Green led a relay race. Dressed in hospital gear, students raced to change the diaper on a preemie stuffed animal.

Tosa and Cyrus Swearingen have personally experienced the NICU. “I was devastated to hear that my son was being admitted to the NICU. Cyrus and I stayed at the hospital constantly and only came home to sleep,” she said.

Their son Riley had malrotation with volvulus in the intestines. Along with twists, the intestines had abnormal tissue bands that cause blockage.

Riley underwent surgery at one week and again at two months.

“Riley is doing so much better now. He is a happy, healthy, almost two-year- old. We’re looking forward to attending his NICU reunion in April,” she said.

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