View All Articles

Giving Back to the Place that Gave Them Hope: The NICU at Winnie Palmer Hospital

July 07, 2014

It wasn’t the birth she had envisioned. Her husband wasn’t even in the room when she delivered her daughter. At 26 weeks of pregnancy, Melissa Harper gave birth to her “miracle,” Hattie, who weighed just one pound 13 ounces and measured only 14 inches long.

“I didn’t hear a loud cry when she came out,” Melissa said. “I didn't get to hold my baby on my chest immediately after I delivered her. But this was our experience, and it was meant to be that way.”

After Melissa gave birth to Hattie, a nurse escorted her husband Chris into the operating room, where he gave Hattie her first kiss. After that, Baby Hattie was whisked away into the arms of several expert team members of the Alexander Center for Neonatology (NICU) at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies.

“I switched my OBGYN right before I found out I was pregnant just so I could deliver at Winnie Palmer ,” Melissa commented. “I don’t know how I had the foresight to know that Hattie needed to be born there, but I’m so glad I did!”

For the next 80 days, Chris and Melissa developed an extended family with the doctors and nurses of the NICU.

“We loved having primary nurses who really took ownership of Hattie's care,” Melissa said. “It sure made it easier – if leaving your baby can be described as easy – to leave.”

“I never knew those nurses would be the ones to help me hold my baby for the first time when she was four days old, teach us how to change the tiniest diaper I've ever seen through two holes in the side of an incubator, be the ones to answer my endless questions and urge me to get rest when I would call to check on Hattie in the middle of the night,” Melissa added. “I will forever be grateful to them for taking care of her…and us.”

Not only did the nurses take a vested interest in Hattie and her parents, but the doctors also made sure to be readily available and provide as much information as possible. “Dr. A had such an incredible way of really listening to us and calming our fears,” Melissa shared. Even after more than two months in the hospital, the Harper’s felt like the doctors and staff were just as meticulous and thorough in their care of Hattie as they had been on her first day in the world.

During Hattie’s 80-day stint in the NICU, Melissa was invited to be part of the 2013 Miracle Miles 5K and 15K kick-off meeting. Knowing firsthand how critical the expert staff and latest technology is to all of the tiny babies in the NICU, she jumped at the opportunity to help with this annual fundraising effort. Melissa and Chris created Team Miracle Hattie and raised funds throughout the months leading up to the race. In total, they raised more than $1,500 for the next future tiny babies who will need expert care in the NICU.

“This place holds a special place in my heart. We believe the actions taken by Dr. Alexander and the nurses in the first few fragile minutes after Hattie was born saved her life,” Melissa said. “The advancements in neonatology make it so babies like Hattie who wouldn’t have survived years ago have the opportunity to live happy and healthy lives. I will do everything I can, to give back to the NICU at Winnie Palmer for all they did for our miracle baby.”

The Harpers recently relocated to Georgia, but despite the distance, they will be fundraising again for the 2014 Miracle Miles 5K & 15K. The event will take place on Saturday, September 20, in downtown Orlando at Lake Eola.

Visit for more information, to register and to start a fundraising team. You can be a part of BIG miracles for these tiny babies.