At Virginia Hospital Center, the Wall of Hope offers strength and support for families with children in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Zen Boyd weighed just one pound when she was born Jan. 8.
“She was able to fit literally in the palm of my hand,” her father, Ryaan, said.
He said she spent two months hooked up to machines in the NICU at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington. Her parents were never far from her side.
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“You had the pandemic, and then she was born prematurely, and then, to couple that, I lost my grandmother two-and-a-half weeks before that,” Ryaan Boyd said.
It was a difficult time at the start of the pandemic, but the family says they drew strength from strangers -- focusing on the hospital’s Wall of Hope featuring portraits and stories of former patients who have defied the odds since birth.
“Seeing the other NICU kids really did help, and it gave us a lot of confidence and strength throughout,” Ryaan Boyd said.
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Virginia Hospital Center treats about 500 to 700 babies in the NICU each year.
“When you're in the throes of a NICU journey, it can be very lonely and isolating and scary,” nurse Dena Carey said.
She said COVID-19 added to the challenges caring for the hospital’s tiniest and most vulnerable patients.
“Most of these one-to-two-pound babies are really the size of your hand,” Carey said. “Often, wedding bands can fit all the way down their arm, which is incredible. You think of the diameter of a wedding band and how that can go all down their arm. They're so tiny.”
That’s why the images lining the halls of the NICU can be so comforting -- knowing others have been through it, too.
Ryaan Boyd said the pictures gave his family so much hope he knew he wanted to give back after Zen got to go home. He donated a portrait of his daughter wearing his late grandmother’s dress.
Almost two years later, Zen has far exceeded all of her developmental milestones and her family says they’re grateful to those working inside the hospital that helped them.
“Zen is a complete bundle of joy,” her father said. “Highly extroverted, big personality, likes to talk – actually, excuse me, loves to talk.”
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“When she was born, it was under the assumption that she was not going to catch up to her milestones until at least 2 years old. She actually caught up to her developmental milestones, including size and weight, by 10 months.”
About 10-to-15% of deliveries end up in the NICU, and the holidays can be especially difficult for those families.
Starting in February, Virginia Hospital Center will have cameras installed in all of their NICU rooms so that parents and loved ones can sign in and see their little one from a secure site.