Quilting Consciousness

Baby Kate Oebker under a homemade quilt

Kate Oebker at 10 days, snug beneath a homemade quilt in Packard’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Packard group seeks quilts for each newborn in intensive care

Text and photograph by Robert Dicks

Ten-day-old Kate Oebker is falling asleep amid the monitors, catheters and tubes surrounding her isolette in the neonatal intensive care unit at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. She’s recovering from surgery to repair a hole in her diaphragm that had thwarted the growth of her lungs.

But when mom Janiece covers her newborn with a petite homemade quilt, one with a blue bear nestled in a sea of multicolored moons and stars, everyone around Kate smiles. They see that this quilt makes Kate’s world a little brighter, a little warmer and a little bit more like the nursery that awaits her at home.

Making and donating these homemade quilts is the mission of nurse Katie Teague, leader of the hospital’s NICU sewing committee.

As a Packard NICU nurse for the last 11 years, Teague knows how terrifying this environment can be. “The doctors, nurses and other caregivers strive to provide emotional support for the family, in addition to caring for the baby’s medical needs. But the NICU is not a nursery, it’s not a playroom, it’s nothing like home,” says Teague. “That’s where the sewing committee comes in.”

The committee’s 15 members began the NICU quilt project in September 2002. The group meets quarterly to create a fresh batch of quilts, with designs including everything from geometric shapes to animals, balloons and cowboys.
Families enjoy choosing the right quilt for their baby, matching it to the personality of their child. The quilt provides warmth or might be draped over an isolette to block light and sound as a baby sleeps.

But the quilt also helps bond mother and child during times of separation. “Many moms take the quilt home and sleep with it or hold it against their body for several hours. That way, the quilt carries the essence of mom when she returns it to the baby,” says Teague.
When a baby leaves the NICU, the family takes the quilt home as a memento. And for the family of a child who does not survive, the quilt often symbolizes the life and love of their baby and provides comfort as they cope with their grief.

“Our goal is to make a quilt for every one of these babies,” says Teague.

With 1,600 newborns admitted to the NICU each year, that’s a lot of quilts. This year the committee has made about 75 and area sewing groups have donated an additional 500, says Teague.

The effort is greatly appreciated. As Oebker says, “These quilts mean so much to a family whose child is ill. They personalize the experience, they add warmth, they add color, they add a sense of home. It’s a precious and loving keepsake, and it will always have meaning for us.”

Packard’s NICU sewing committee also accepts homemade blankets from volunteers. For more information about how you can make and donate a quilt or blanket for Packard’s NICU babies, visit http://quiltsforbabies.lpch.org.

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