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Giving back to the hospital that changed our lives

Written by Heather Shields

This is part 2 of Heather Shields’ story.

After the twins were born, I was asked several times by the staff at Winnie Palmer Hospital to come visit moms who were on the ante partum unit or in the NICU who were struggling so that I could share our story and hopefully give them hope. I always felt like Kendall and Carson’s story was a story that had to be shared. And I always knew I wanted to give back to this amazing hospital that changed our lives forever.

About three years after the twins were born, I learned that the NICU was establishing a Parent Advisory Council (PAC), and various staff members in the NICU had nominated me as a potential candidate. I was so humbled by the nomination and knew it was a perfect fit for me given my past experience on the ante partum unit, our long journey through the NICU and my counseling background. (Prior to the twins I spent 13 years working for the Department of Veterans Affairs working with Veterans with disabilities. My Bachelor’s Degree is in Education and I have a Master’s Degree in Counseling). Initially, there were approximately 10 moms who were selected to be on the PAC and a variety of NICU staff who also agreed to serve (nurses, nurse managers, social workers and doctors) as well. The moms who were selected to be on the PAC all had different experiences with the NICU. We have moms who have experience with micro preemies, preemies, multiple births, Down Syndrome, and the loss of a baby in the NICU. Over the past two years, the PAC has been able to host question and answer functions for families who are currently in the NICU. We’ve toured the NICU as a group, going from room to room, talking with families at their child’s bedside. We’ve volunteered when the NICU hosted activities for the families. We’ve participated in fundraising activities to include Miracle Miles, Miles for Milk etc. We’ve developed invaluable reference material for the families and staff to include a gestational development guide, a dictionary of NICU terms, and a discharge resource document to name a few. We have created t-shirts that can be customized with the NICU baby’s information (birth weight, gestation etc.) for families to purchase at cost as well. We commonly refer to the PAC members as NICUnited because united we stand with the current families, alumni families and staff at the hospital.

Over the last two years, the majority of the original PAC members are still involved, but we have a wave of new moms and dads who will be joining our team and we are very excited. The babies and families who land in the NICU come from all walks of life and the reason the babies are there can vary greatly. Having a diverse PAC will help us be able to reach more families, which will be amazing. Our PAC is still new given the fact we are only 2 years old, but we’ve already been able to make a big impact in such a short period of time. We have some innovative ideas that we are presently working on and we have additional items that we will be rolling out in the near future to the families.

On September 20th, the Winnie Palmer PAC will be participating and raising funds for “Miracle Miles,” a 5k/15k race which will benefit the NICU. Our team name is NICUnited and we are compromised of staff members, current NICU families, NICU alumni, friends and family. It’s an amazing race for an incredible cause If you would like to join our team or help us raise funds, click here for our team page.

I would encourage anyone who has interest in giving back to the hospital to meet with the volunteer services department at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babiesto explore what opportunities are available so that they can determine what would be the best fit. Depending on their interests, there are so many different areas where they can volunteer at Winnie Palmer Hospital or Arnold Palmer Hospital. In addition to the mainstream volunteer opportunities at both hospitals, there are numerous fundraising and event planning groups that always need volunteers as well for special events like Miracle Miles, Tiny Baby Ball which proceeds benefit the NICU.

To learn more about what it takes to volunteer at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, feel free to check out their link on the website: Winnie Palmer Hospital Volunteer Services where you can fill out an online application if you are interested in volunteering.