Hand to Hold's Official Blog: Written by Parents for Parents

Meet Our Bloggers

Kelli KelleyKelli Kelley (53)

Founder, Hand to Hold - Kelli D. Kelley (TX) is the mother of two preemies – Jackson born at 24 weeks in 2000 and Lauren born at 34 weeks in 2003. She is the founder of Hand to Hold, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated providing support and navigation resources to families who had a preemie, who had a child in the NICU or with a special healthcare need, or who experienced loss. She has experienced the emotional fallout and isolation that having preemies often causes. As a direct result, Kelli has dedicated her life to offering hope and sanctuary to all parents who have had similar journeys. Contact her via email.

Leigh Ann TorresLeigh Ann Torres (44)

Online Community Coordinator, Preemie Babies 101 Lead Blogger - Leigh Ann Torres is a freelance writer, blogger and mother of three living in Austin, TX. After a short and sudden bout with severe preeclampsia, Leigh Ann’s identical twin girls were delivered at 31 weeks, spending 38 mostly uneventful days in the NICU. Two years later the Torres family welcomed another baby, this time at term, with only a mild case of preeclampsia. Leigh Ann currently runs Hand to Hold’s official blog and social media channels. When she’s not doing laundry or fulfilling requests for snacks, she usually has her nose stuck in a book. You can keep in touch with Leigh Ann on Twitter or via email.


Kari AkinKari Akin (1)

Kari Akin is a mother to 2 full term girls, Madylin and Layla, angel baby Annabelle, and NICU grad Nolan. Nolan was born at 24 weeks gestation and weighed just 1 pound, 1 ounce (that's smaller than a bottle of coke people!). In his 128 days in the NICU, Nolan was on a ventilator for 8 weeks, had 9 blood transfusions, 2 rounds of sepsis, renal failure, double inguinal hernias, ROP and ROP surgery, and came home on continuous Oxygen. He is currently on Oxygen only at night and has minimal health issues. All of the Akin children are known to be strong willed, mud rollers, and tree climbers. Their micro-preemie is no exception. In addition to raising 3 rambunctious kids, Kari has also been teaching special education for over a decade. She hopes her experience as a working mom to a micro + 2 will help other families.

Jennifer BeattyJennifer Beatty (14)

Jennifer Beatty (TX) is the mother of two active boys born early and a social worker employed by Hand to Hold. With her first son, she delivered at 36 weeks and experienced a brief overnight stay in the NICU for blood sugar issues. After fertility issues with her second pregnancy, Jennifer was devastated to have an emergency delivery at 30 weeks due to severe pre-eclampsia. Though her younger son only weighed 2 pounds 9 ounces at birth, he came home after 45 days in the NICU at just over 5 pounds and is a strong and healthy preschooler.

Kaleena BerrymanKaleena Berryman (9)

Kaleena Berryman (NJ) is mom to Jharid, born at 24 weeks, in April 2012. After five months in the NICU battling complications such as ROP, BPD, Grade 3 brain bleeds and NEC, Jharid came home to his mom and dad a healthy, happy, thriving boy. Even though “Mom” is her most treasured title, Kaleena is also a writer, poet, mentor, and Program Coordinator for the Abbott Leadership Institute at Rutgers Newark. She wants to help other preemie parents develop their advocacy voice. Kaleena has a B.S. in Communication from William Paterson University and a M.S. in Public Administration from Rutgers University. She is the founder of a preemie parent support blog. Connect with her on Facebook.

Ima CarnelusIma Carnelus (2)

Ima is a blogger, Influencer, Entrepreneur and Speaker- she is also married to a wonderful man and is the mother of Jaxson, now 13 months old. After 2 weeks of unexpected complications, Ima went into preterm labor delivering her baby boy at 22 weeks, 6 days. He was given a 20% chance of survival but through Faith, hope, love and prayer from their Village, Jaxson showed that he was a true miracle and fought to live. Their NICU journey would go on to last 119 long days before Jaxson was discharged. Through her pain and personal journey of being a preemie mom she began blogging and encouraging other parents through social media. Her goal and passion is to, inspire and uplift parents who are experiencing lifes difficulties in and out of the NICU. On her personal blog, Miracle Wife, she not only provides inspiration, but also tips and advice. She has also been published on The Mighty and Her View From Home and is just getting started on expanding her career as a writer.
You can keep up with Ima on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Julie CruzJulie Cruz (16)

Julie Cruz (PA) is a stay-at-home-mom to four wonderful children and she enjoys spending her days with them. She and her husband are currently in the process of adopting a child from Haiti. She loves volunteering in the NICU as a mentor mom, conversing with other parents and bringing them special surprises. She is the author of “Tiny Feet,” a book about her NICU journey and things she learned along the way.

Parijat DeshpandeParijat Deshpande (5)

Parijat Deshpande (CA) is a micropreemie mom and the leading perinatal wellness expert who specializes in working with women during a high-risk pregnancy. She educates and guides women on how to manage their stress and anxiety so they can have healthier pregnancies, decrease their risk of preterm birth and give their baby a healthy start to life. Parijat is a clinically trained therapist, a women’s wellness expert and an experienced speaker on the impact of stress on health and wellness.

Lesley Donaldson-ReidLesley Donaldson-Reid (8)

Lesley Donaldson-Reid (ON, Canada) is a nurse and writer whose personal blog focuses on her life, special needs and travel with her family. Lesley is the author of Growing A Rainbow, the painful and uplifting narrative about Torran, born at 26 weeks and 6 days from sub-chorionic bleeds and oligohydramnios. Torran has hydrocephalus from grade 3 & 4 IVH, PVL, autism, audio dys-synchrony hearing loss & cerebral palsy (and other medical stuff). Connect with Lesley: Twitter, Facebook , Pinterest, & Google+.

Danielle DregerDanielle Dreger (7)

Danielle Dreger (WA) is an ex-30 week preemie and the mom of a
micro-preemie boy born at 27 weeks after she developed HELLP. Theo
weighed 1 lb, 13oz and was 13 inches long and spent over 200 days in
the NICU/hospital with severe lung damage from complications from a
PDA ligation, a superbug, pneumonia and prematurity. Now Theo is a
happy and vocal toddler who loves “organizing,” reading, and chasing
his dogs. When not working as a teen librarian or working on her YA
novel, Danielle is chasing Theo, traveling with family, and trying to
squeeze in a nap.

Kimberly DrewKimberly Drew (2)

Kimberly is the mother of Abbey, 14, who suffered multiple disabilities as the result of a traumatic delivery. In 2009, she and her husband Ryan also delivered a stillborn son as the result of a chord accident. In 2015, she and her husband adopted Ellie who was born prematurely and drug addicted. They have four children now, two with special needs. Kimberly has a degree in Elementary Education and teaches part time. In addition to her blog, she is co-author with Jocelyn Green of the book Refresh: Spiritual Nourishment for Parents of Children with Special Needs, which released in September of 2016.

Rhiannon GilesRhiannon Giles (7)

Rhiannon Giles is an overwhelmed mother who only occasionally considers giving her children to the circus. Her daughter, born in 2010, was a full term induction due to Cholestasis of Pregnancy. Because she likes a full range of experiences she went with partial abruption and severe Preeclampsia for her second pregnancy. Rowan was born in 2015 via an urgent c-section at 31 weeks and 5 days, and spent 40 days in the NICU. Rhiannon has a sarcasm problem and writes regularly at rhiyaya.com . To keep up with new posts and see some of her favorites, join her on Facebook. To read more about Rowan's story, head over to rowan.small.and.mighty.

LaShanda GordonLaShanda Gordon (2)

LaShanda Gordon (GA) is a medical writer and proud mom of a 13-year-old daughter and 2-year-old triplets. Her preemie journey began when her BGG triplets were delivered at 29 weeks by emergency c-section due to unexplained PPROM. Although the triplets entered the world fast and furiously, their 46-day NICU stay was fairly uneventful with feeding, growing, and respiratory support as the primary focus. Today the triplets are pint-sized toddler personalities who adore their big sister to the moon and back. You can connect with LaShanda through email and Facebook.

Summer Hill-VinsonSummer Hill-Vinson (17)

Summer (MS) delivered her son 14 weeks early in July 2010 as a result of preterm labor, and he was in the NICU for 3 months. She unexpectedly developed severe preeclampsia with her daughter, almost had her in another state while on vacation, and delivered her 11 weeks premature in January 2013. Both babies weighed 2.5 pounds, and they were in the same NICU for a combined 150 days. Summer, a journalism instructor, is writing a book about her family's NICU years.

SuhirSuhir (1)

Suhir Jabreen is 33 years old and from London, UK. She is a mom to two girls under two with a 13 month age gap. Her 2nd daughter, Faye was born in May 2016 at 28 weeks, weighing 1.25kg and spent 2 uneventful months in the NICU. Suhir is a BRCA1 carrier and had a double bilateral mastectomy in 2013, with a hysterectomy is planned in a few years time. She has spent the last 8 years living in Dubai, UAE, where both her girls were born, but is heading back to the UK this year.

You can find Suhir on Instagram at @thatmamabreezy

Erica KingsburyErica Kingsbury (1)

Erica (WA) is mom to busy toddler, Everett, who was born 8 weeks prematurely via emergency c-section. After a healthy pregnancy and no known cause for the premature birth, Erica and her husband dealt with the struggles and fear of watching their son spend a month in the NICU before going home. Everett is now a healthy, active little boy and while his NICU days sometimes seem far away, Erica has a passion for blogging about their time in the NICU in the hope that others may benefit and find hope through her family’s story. After working for a financial company for several years, Erica is now a stay at home mom. In her spare time (what’s that?) she trains for her first upcoming bodybuilding competition and coaches others to achieve health and wellness.

Carolyn Leighton-HilbornCarolyn Leighton-Hilborn (13)

Carolyn (Ontario, Canada) is a mother of three premature children. In 2008 her first son arrived at 31 weeks; she trusted her instincts and made it to the hospital in time. In 2010, she had identical twin boys at 27 weeks. The twins' NICU stays lasted 3 months and just shy of 4 months. During this time Carolyn felt extremely isolated and began to reach out via social media. On her personal blog, she writes about raising preemies, twins and parenting topics; you can also find her on Twitter. Currently, she is a peer health worker in her local multiples organization, Chairs Multiple Births Canada’s Preterm Birth Support Network and joined the Board of Directors of Canadian Premature Babies Foundation.

Laura MaikataLaura Maikata (9)

Laura Maikata (MI) is mom to three fantastically unique children, the youngest of whom was born at 23 weeks due to preterm labor. Within months of finishing a MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Laura found herself as a student, instead of teacher, of a different kind of foreign language – the language of medical professionals. In the NICU her son, nicknamed "JAM." had surgeries for a PDA, NEC and AP-ROP. More on JAM's tenacity for life can be found on Laura's blog or on Twitter.

Karee MarshKaree Marsh (6)

Karee Marsh (IL) had her first and only child at just 26 weeks gestation due to Incompetent Cervix. He was born 2lbs 7ozs and had a very uneventful albeit long 103-day NICU stay in 2013. In addition to being a stay-at-home mom, Karee helps run her family's honeybee supplier business (son in tow), keeps honeybees herself and has blogged since she was a teenager. Her passions include informing families and friends on how to best support NICU parents, as well as those dealing with Incompetent Cervix issues.

Kathy McClellandKathy McClelland (16)

Kathy McClelland (TX) is mom to two beautiful boys and both spent an extended period of time in the NICU. Her first was a 34-week preemie. Early in her pregnancy she suffered two pulmonary emboli, which revealed two blood disorders. Then late pre-term she developed preeclampsia and HELLP Syndrome. Baby one weighed 4 lbs, 14 oz and was a feeder/grower spending three weeks in the NICU. Baby two was a surprise on multiple levels. Hoping to not repeat the NICU experience a second time, she delivered a 5 lb, 9 oz baby at 37 weeks. However, he was soon diagnosed with a rare syndrome and spent two months in two different NICUs. She writes about faith and finding beauty and hope on her personal blog.

Melissa McMurchyMelissa McMurchy (26)

Melissa McMurchy (OH) is the mother of twin daughters, Brooklynn and Kendall, born three months early, weighing 1.4 and 2.7 pounds. Brooklynn coasted through all milestones and is currently only behind in speech. Kendall, with an eleven-month hospital stay, is a bit spunkier with three broken bones, multiple blood transfusions and six surgeries under her belt. The journey has been long, but the lessons many. Melissa is a lover of sports, the smell of rain and miracles. You can follow her on Twitter or on her personal blog, Two Miracles.

Andrea MullenmeisterAndrea Mullenmeister (12)

Andrea Mullenmeister (MN) is a stay-at-home-mom for a little adventurer. Jaxson decided to meet the family while they were on vacation! After a terrifying helicopter ride, Jax was born at 23 weeks 3 days weighing 1lb 8oz. He suffered from severe ROP, humongous inguinal hernias, Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia and severe hyspospadias. After 93 days in the NICU, Jax came home. He is a happy and mostly healthy toddler with only minor issues. Andrea volunteers on a parent advisory council for "Jax's" NICU and shares their story to give other parents hope. She writes about the life of her micropreemie at An Early Start. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Beth PuskasBeth Puskas (21)

Beth Puskas (NY) is a children's librarian and has one child, Benjamin, born by emergency c-section at 29-weeks after Beth developed severe preeclampsia in 2013. Ben also was born with a cleft lip and palate. He came home after a 68-day stay in the NICU and spent the next year having his cleft lip and palate repaired. Despite a global developmental delay, Ben is a thriving, happy, toddler who loves to laugh. Beth hopes to use her experience to help other families.

Katie Reginato CascamoKatie Reginato Cascamo (5)

Katie Reginato Cascamo lives in San Luis Obispo, California and shares an active life with her husband John and 6-year-old son Giovanni born at 30 weeks, 3 days at 2lbs, 8oz. Katie unexpectedly developed pre-eclampsia and was airlifted from her home in Southern Oregon to a Children’s Miracle Network hospital in Medford, Oregon where she spent 56-days with her son in the NICU. Giovanni quickly became a feeder/grower in the NICU without a complication though has spent countless hours in Early Intervention therapies.

Katie Reginato Casamo recently graduated with her Master of Arts Organizational Leadership with a concentration in Servant-Leadership, She is the founder of Courageous Steps, providing leadership to organizations who care for families experiencing prematurity or special needs.

Eric RuthfordEric Ruthford (12)

Thomas Eric Ruthford (WA) is the father of one child, Gabriel, who was born at 22 weeks and 6 days of gestation, setting a record for most immature survivor to come out of his NICU, the busiest one in the state. Thomas and his wife, Miri, live in Washington state. Thomas was a newspaper reporter in the late 90s, and is now a non-profit manager. He has also served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Ukraine, teaching English as a foreign language. He is working on a book about Gabriel, and how neonatal care developed. You can find him on Twitter @MicroPreemieDad, or his personal blog.

Cheryl SilinskasCheryl Silinskas (1)

Cheryl Silinskas (PA), is also known as Earlie Girlie's Mom, a 24-week, 816 gram (1 lb. 8oz) micropreemie. Despite having a complicated medical profile, Earlie Girlie has grown into a happy child who inspires people every day. In the NICU, I often thought, “I'm an art therapist, what do I know about physical medicine and keeping a tiny person alive with all of this equipment?” As my daughter blinked at me, and the machines beeped at me, I was determined to figure it out, starting with what I knew best – art, music, storytelling and healing.
As Vice President and Art Facilitator of Art Expression Inc, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, I enjoy my lifelong dream of being an art-helper. Follow my blog, Early Girlie Homeschool. Connect with Cheryl on Facebook at Micro Preemie Support Network, CP Mommies, Daddies, Grandparents and Caregivers, or Tracheostomy.

Stacey SkrysakStacey Skrysak (8)

Stacey Skrysak (IL) is a news anchor and blogger, who resides in Illinois. She is mother to Peyton, her lone surviving triplet. Through her experience, Stacey has helped thousands of others dealing with issues such as infertility, grief and life in the NICU. She has opened up her life to people around the world, keeping her new friends updated through her blog Perfectly Peyton.

Shanna ThompsonShanna Thompson (3)

Shanna Thompson (IN) is a Local Outreach Director at a large church on the northside of Indianapolis. In April of 2014 she developed severe and early on-set pre-eclampsia during her first pregnancy, which led to the delivery of her daughter at 27 weeks, weighing 1lb 15oz. After an 84 day NICU stay Shanna enjoys connecting with and helping other NICU moms in their own journey through the NICU.

Jessie ThrelkeldJessie Threlkeld (13)

Jessie Threlkeld is mother to Breanna, a former 32 weeker. Jessie's uneventful pregnancy came to a screeching halt due to unexplained PPROM. Due to breathing and eating complications Bree had a much longer NICU stay than anticipated with a total of three discharges from the NICU. The two struggled through the ups and downs of breastfeeding, performing CPR and learning the ropes of bringing a preemie home. Jess and her husband Nate have made it their passion to encourage and support preemie parents, and find ways to help those that want to breastfeed. Jessie is passionate about encouraging NICU moms through their journey, as well as, finding natural solutions for common preemie issues. Check out her blog for tips on surviving in the NICU and beyond.

Kara WahlinKara Wahlin (7)

Kara (CA) is a marriage and family therapist/art therapist located in southern California. Since the preterm birth of her twin sons Elliott and William at 26 weeks and the loss of William at six days old, she's made it her mission to try and use her skills as a therapist to reach out to help, empower, and nurture other families going through the NICU experience. She loves art, exploring, literature, music and doing wild and wooly projects with her son and husband. You can learn more about her on her website, NICUHealing, as well as her personal website. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.