Former patient helps bring Thanksgiving to Rex’s NICU

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Parents of the tiniest patients at a Raleigh hospital are getting Thanksgiving treats from a former patient.

Five-year-old Carter Hodges spent the first 24 days of his life at UNC Rex Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. He was born 10 weeks early, and weighed just over three pounds. Carter and his mother returned Wednesday to the NICU to give thanks and give back.

“Having a baby in a NICU can be very difficult, lonely, and isolating at times. Especially during the holiday season,” Caron Hodges said.

“We just had the idea that we wanted to help those families and give them a little cheer and encouragement.”

Friends, family, and even some strangers donated funds and supplies to the Hodges’ collection efforts. Caron and Carter packed about 40 gift bags with items including bottled water, hand lotion, hand sanitizer, snacks, wipes, and tissues.

Each bag also contains a copy of the book Guess How Much I Love You.

“It was one that we started reading to Carter while he was in the NICU here,” Hodges said.

“As NICU parents often you feel helpless because you can’t be the primary caregiver of the baby at that time. One of the ways that you can contribute to their care is by reading books to them, and that was a special one that we read.”

There were 18 babies in the UNC Rex NICU Wednesday afternoon, including two sets of twins. Carter waited in the lobby while his mother delivered bags to some of the parents who were at the hospital at the time, including Shawna Wilson.

Wilson is eager to take home her daughter, Ava Jade, who will likely spend her fourteenth day in the NICU on Thanksgiving.

“They’re really very supportive. I was scared, being a scared new mom, first time mom, I didn’t know how to feel about being overdue,” Wilson said.

“Once I got here, the nurses showed me how to care for her, not to be scared, and to stay encouraged and that she’s well taken care of while she’s here.”

Wilson’s daughter was not born prematurely, but she said spending time with Hodges and learning about the other mother’s experience makes her feel better. She said receiving the gift bag is wonderful, but the conversation with Hodges was the biggest sign of encouragement.

“It just gives me so much joy to see another parent that has made it out of here with their baby doing well, no problem, it just makes me feel a lot more positive about our journey here,” she said.

The Wilsons have some of the same medical staff for Ava Jade’s treatment that the Hodges had for Carter’s. Nurse Lisa Saye said she remembers Carter and the Hodges from 2011, and is pleased to see the family return to express gratitude and help others.

“He was a small guy with a lot of needs, but they were very involved and wanted to learn and wanted to be a part and we wanted to let them be involved,” Saye said.

“To see him grow from just a small infant with a lot of needs to a healthy young man, running, playing sports, that’s what it’s all about.”

The Hodges will provide a Thanksgiving breakfast for the NICU parents Thursday. They plan to distribute the remaining half of the gift bags to families new to the NICU as Christmas approaches.

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