Golisano Children’s Hospital program allows sibling interaction with babies in NICU

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LEE COUNTY, Fla.- When you have a baby that needs to stay in the hospital for weeks or even months after birth, it can be stressful for any parent. But what about the other kids in the family? How do they cope?

The Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida has a special sibling visitation program for older siblings of babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

It gives the kids time to learn about what their little brothers and sisters are going through and how to interact with them.

The moments are extra special for big brother Darius and baby Jeremiah.

“I like that we can stay here and he will recognize my voice when we go home,” said Darius.

“It’s so stressful to think your little baby came early, and to look at all the medical equipment needed to save their life and then to think, how do I explain that to my other child at home? And that’s where we’re able to step in and do it in a welcoming environment,” said Julie Avirett.

The weekly session starts with an art project, music and education.

Isabel Santos says baby Christian’s six weeks so far in the NICU have not been easy on the family.

“They want him home already, they want to take him every time they come here. They want to take him in a bag and sneak him home and I do too honestly,” said Santos.

But this program brings them together and helps them cope.

“It’s helped them understand, you know, one day they see me pregnant and the next day the baby’s no longer there but he’s here in the hospital,” said Santos. “They get to show all their friends their little brother through their scrapbook which is nice ’cause a lot of people ask ‘where’s your brother?'”

“It’s beautiful to see the excitement and awe of ‘I get to see my brother or sister, I get to be where mommy and daddy are,” said Avirett.

Tinikki Evans knows just how important these visits are because it’s not her first go around with the NICU. Her son Darius and his older sister were both born premature too.

“I was so excited when I found out about it because years ago they didn’t have that program when he was in here, so his sister couldn’t see him,” said Evans. “I would recommend everybody if you’re going through this, bring your other kids here.”

The program has been in place for two years and close to 150 families have participated. Siblings must be at least 3 years old and meet certain immunization requirements.

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