There’s a surprising reason why many parents can’t visit their premature babies as often as they’d like: Parking. It can be very expensive at a hospital, and insurance doesn’t cover it. But one foundation is working to help parents spend more time with their preemies.
Vallerie Wonders was only 5 months pregnant when she went into labor. Everyone in the hospital room was in a frenzy. The doctors tried to stop her labor, but couldn’t.
Everyone was saying, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” Wonders told CNN.
The baby was coming and they couldn’t stop it. They were expecting a still birth.
“Then all of a sudden we heard this squawk,” Wonders said. The doctors’ eyes bulged, everyone stopped. “It’s a boy!” they said. “He’s alive!”
Vallerie and Juan Wonders’s son Seth was born premature at just 24 weeks.
At 1 pounds and 10 ounces, “he literally fit in the palms of your hands,” Wonders said.
Wonders remembers blacking out after that, and when she woke up, Seth had been brought in and set up inside his incubator. His tiny little fingers reached up, and she touched his hand.
Then it was onto the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where Seth would spend the next 170 days.
An estimated 15 million babies are born too early every year, according to the World Health Organization. That’s one in 10 births being premature. Premature babies are at risk for immediate and lasting health complications.
In the early days of these babies’ lives, parents understandably want to be near them.
There are studies that show the benefits of touch and proximity to premature babies’ heart rates and breathing.
Yet many parents find that hospital parking isn’t cheap and can be a huge burden; one spot could be $20 or even $50, and extended stays start to add up.
“It would’ve cost us almost $9,000 to be with our baby every single day that he was fighting for his life,” Wonders said.
When she finally got to meet her baby, “there were just so many wires and tubes coming out of this tiny peanut of a human.”
“You feel so helpless, you don’t know what you can do, and they always told us that the best thing that we can do is be there,” Wonders told Chicago Tribune.
Seth underwent almost 500 lab tests, almost every test you could imagine, Wonders said, and insurance covered much of it, but insurance doesn’t cover parking.
Wonders is one of the many parents that got to spend time with their babies in NICU thanks to Carrie and Terry Meghie.
The Meghie couple, both real estate developers, had gone through a taxing ordeal in 2011.
On 11/11/11, at 11:11 p.m., Carrie Meghie gave birth to Jackson Chance Meghie. Jackson was a premature baby, and ended up spending only 48 hours out of 10 months outside of the NICU, before he passed away in 2012.
“My heart is broken and filled with more sorrow than I knew possible, but, amazingly, there remains some joy. Jackson was so special. We are grateful for the past ten months,” Meghie wrote on her website.
The couple knew immediately they wanted to do something to honor Jackson’s memory.
The Meghies wanted to do something so that babies in the NICU did not have to be there alone.
“We decided to make it so every baby could have somebody with them 24/7,” Meghie told CNN.
She remembered that during Jackson’s first month in the NICU, she came home one day to see their credit card statement for the month and realized that she had spent nearly $2,000 just on parking.
“A lot of families, they can’t afford to visit,” Meghie said. That memory sparked the inspiration for her Jackson Chance Foundation, which raises funds to provide parking and transportation to families with babies in NICU.
They felt that parking should be the last thing a family should have to worry about.
Wonders was not only grateful to be close to her son, but she believes being able to be there for Seth had a real impact.
This March marked four years for the Jackson Chance Foundation.
It’s provided 30,000 visits to critically ill babies.
One mother Meghie visited told her that she could see her child’s heartbeat normalize when she was holding him. Another couple wrote that not having to think about parking “made a world of difference.”
Wonders said of her son, “He’s tall, he’s healthy, and he’s on point for his weight. I think he’s doing so well because we were able to be there.”
“We were there for it all.”