CHICAGO, Ill. — Earlier this month, the March of Dimes reported that the pre-term birthrate in the U.S. increased by more than 10% for the fifth year in a row.
For parents of premature babies, it’s an emotional journey filled with anxiety and helplessness.
Two years ago, little Bryce Harshfield came into the world.
“He is a miracle baby,” said his mother Dana Harshfield.
Born at 24-weeks, Bryce weighed just 1 pound 5 ounces.
“He was so tiny and, you know, in those first initial days, they have to prepare you for the worst,” she said.
He was about 12 inches long and fragile.
“I couldn't hold Bryce for 11 days,” said Dana. “And that was the hard part.”
“The doctors and the nurses are amazing but sometimes things were just out of anybody's control,” said Bryce's father, Vancouver Harshfield.
It was a precarious time. For five months, nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit had to mimic for Bryce being in the womb. Lindsay Rudy, a child life specialist at Chicago’s Rush University Children's Hospital says that meant keeping the lights down low and minimizing stimulation.
“So, we tell our parents how to interact and what to do and don't touch them too much,” said Rudy.
One thing the Harshfields could do was read.
“It helps promote brain development, helps them get acclimated with our voices,” said Dana. “It helps you as a parent when you feel like you can do nothing.”
Now, the Harshfields are collecting books, a lot of books, for their NICU. It’s a way to help other parents and premature babies.
The book drop-offs have also become mini reunions. Bryce’s nurses have gotten to see the tiny baby they helped grow into a little boy.
It’s a gift in Bryce’s name.
“We're hoping that with the NICU families, that they'll take away having that memory that lasts a lifetime and cherishing those moments and reading those books,” said Dana.
Next up is a foundation – a way to bring books to NICU’s across the country. Large donations are already coming in.
It’s a holiday mission during a global pandemic that says Dana they are intent on fulfilling.
“The littlest bit makes the biggest difference. And one person can make a difference.”