VERONA, NJ – The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Saint Barnabas Medical Center recently held its 13th annual Miracle Walk at Verona Park on Sunday, Sept. 29.
The public was invited to join hundreds of parents and former NICU patients to walk in celebration of life and to raise money for the Saint Barnabas NICU.
“The walk has just grown and grown because of the amazing families that are so grateful for the care that they have received over the years,” said Hayley Hirschmann, former NICU mom and Miracle Walk founder. They all come out each year to support the event too.”
At 25 weeks gestation, Hurschmann became the mom of twins. “My son was not ready to be in this world-–my daughter, for whatever crazy reason, at 25 weeks gestation, was,” said Hirschmann.
“They both weighed 1 pound 10 ounces. My son passed away later that day, then my daughter went on to spend 96 days in the NICU-- just receiving what I thought was the most incredible care given to a baby ever.”
During her daughter’s stay in the NICU, Hirschmann and her husband Jonathan Hirschmann decided that they wanted to do something to give back to the staff and the doctors that took care of her daughter and son. After brainstorming, an idea was presented to the Saint Barnabas Foundation and a Miracle Walk was soon to be born in October 2001, during the same time of their daughter’s first birthday.
“My husband, being the idea man, laid out the whole marketing plan.” The Hirschmanns had a goal to engage 400 people to raise $100,000 each year, for 10 years. In the first year they beat their goal by coming in with $103,000. “Of course he was wrong every year then after because the walk just kept growing and growing,” explained Hirschmann.
Since inception, the Miracle Walk has raised close to $4.5 million.
In addition to providing medical care, the NICU also provides support services to current families with babies in their unit. April Erck, also in attendance at the walk, has been acting as a ‘parent buddy’ to recent NICU parents.
“They pair me with other parents who are going through their NICU journey based on a similar gestational age so that we can support them in the best way,” said Erck. “I feel like the only way for me to say thank you is to pay it forward. I know I have two hearts to love today because of the care they received at the NICU.”
In 2007, Erck gave birth after 26 weeks to a son and daughter, Dylan, who spent 80 days and Cassidy, who spent 88 days in the NICU.
Erck said that she and her husband visited the NICU every day, once in the morning and once in the evening. In between, they would go home and try to do “normal life things.”
“Pumping was of course something I did around the clock--it was the only mom behavior that I felt like I could do,” said Erck. “Looking back, I don’t know how I did it, but when you’re in it, you have no choice.”
The Ercks have been walking since 2008 and raise between $7,000-$12,000 every year for the Unit.
Among many other families that participated, the Zamfotis family also walked in honor of their recent miracle baby. Zoe, who was born at Saint Barnabas at 24 weeks, weighing 1 pound, 6 ounces and was in attendance showing off her healthy baby status.
“We watched our miracle baby grow in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Saint Barnabas Medical Center,” said Mrs. Zamfotis. “Each moment was special for us--the first time we dressed her, to watching every ounce she gained and each strand of hair that grew on her head. We celebrated every moment.”
“The NICU is a special place where miracles like our Zoe are given a chance they otherwise wouldn’t have,” said Mr. Zamfotis. He and his wife credit the NICU’s equipment, facilities and staff as the reason for Zoe’s presence in their lives. “Not only did the doctors and nurses care for our baby, but they comforted and consoled us when we needed it most,” Mrs. Zamfotis adds.
Saint Barnabas' NICU is rated as a Level III Regional Perinatal Center, which is the highest designation attainable. It treats approximately 1,200 infants, on a yearly basis, for prematurity, low birth weight, acute illness, and congenital disorders.
In the last decade, the NICU has maintained one of the lowest rates of chronic lung disease and severe eye disease associated with extreme prematurity among more than 850 NICUs internationally.
Premature babies, including the most fragile, low birth weight infants, cared for at the Saint Barnabas NICU have a very high survival rate and a very low disability rate compared to national averages.