Franciscan Health Crown Point is the proud alma mater to some of Northwest Indiana’s most distinguished graduates, the NICU babies who work tirelessly to go home with their parents. Three of Franciscan’s nurses, Patti Pirkle, Kim Federico, and Beth Wanicki, got together to create the NICU Graduation program to celebrate the effort of these babies and their families.
The program first started when the nurses played “Pomp and Circumstance,” the classic graduation theme, over the hospital intercom every time a baby left the NICU to go home with their parents.
“When moms deliver a normal-term newborn, they get played a little lullaby,” Pirkle said. “Our babies missed out on that special moment. We felt like with everything our babies and their families go through, we wanted to do something positive for them and create our own special moment.”
In January, Federico and Wanicki decided to add an even more personal touch to the program. Federico started making tiny gowns and stoles while Wanicki began crocheting miniature graduation caps.
“I had been taking care of one baby who’d been nearly full-term, but was very sick,” said Wanicki. “A week and a half later, he went home healthy. I just tried to quickly make a crochet hat for him and his mom was so tearful and appreciative, she loved it. She still sends me pictures of him all the time and calls him my New Year’s Eve baby since I stayed late that night to take care of him.”
Since then, the trio have been doing the full graduation ceremony, complete with caps and gowns, for any baby who stays in the NICU for over a month. During those journeys, the nurses build a strong relationship with everyone involved.
“They become family to us, and we become family to them,” Federico said. “The families were in awe when we started doing it, that we would spend our time at home doing something like this. We care much more than I think they realize.”
The hospital intercoms are often full of more somber alerts or emergency notices, and the rest of the hospital started getting in on the fun once they realized what “Pomp and Circumstance” signified.
“They’ll greet the families walking out like ‘I’ve seen you coming in every day,’” Pirkle said. “The song has kind of made me Pavlov’s dog, I start crying every time I hear it.”
The team hopes that one day, they can start giving every baby a cap and gown – even those in and out in a day. To learn more about Franciscan Health, visit www.franciscanhealth.org.