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

What Does It Take to Be a NICU Hero?

Dr Cleary Receiving the NICU Heroes Award

Dr. Cleary Receiving the NICU Heroes Award as Kelli Kelley of Hand to Hold and Charles Carol of Mead Johnson Nutrition look on.

One of 11 children and father of six, Dr. Gerard Cleary, recipient of the first annual NICU Heroes Award, understands the importance of family. He says the joy of being a neonatologist is giving great people the opportunity to have a family of their own.

The NICU Heroes Award, sponsored by Hand to Hold and Mead Johnson Nutrition, recognizes neonatal professionals for their compassion and dedication to improving outcomes not only for medically fragile babies but also the entire family.

Jennifer holding her daughter

Jennifer with her daughter Ella in her arms shares an emotional tribute about her twins’ neonatologist Dr. Cleary during the awards ceremony.

As Abington Memorial Hospital NICU graduate twins Aidan and Ella Binkley (now age 2) looked on, their mom, Jennifer, read an emotional tribute to Dr. Cleary at the NICU Heroes Award luncheon held at Abington Memorial Hospital September 26, 2013.  Jennifer shared openly about the emotional breakdown she faced more than a month after her twins’ early birth at 23 weeks.  She was so distraught that she was unable to visit the NICU.

“After three days of not seeing my beautiful children, I made it through the darkness and went back into the NICU, afraid of judgment and criticism from the staff,” said Jennifer.   “Instead, we were greeted with a warm embrace from a teary-eyed Dr. Cleary, with the words, ‘We are going to do this together.’”

“Dr. Cleary showed us compassion, support and patience as we battled through the darkest days of the NICU. We had never known how to truly thank him for his compassionate care of Aidan and Ella and our entire family until now.  Doctors and nurses in the NICU have an incredibly difficult job.  While they strive to save the tiniest of babies, they must also raise the hopes and mend the hearts of their parents.”

Dr. Cleary with the Binkley Family

Dr. Cleary with the Binkley Family

Dr. Cleary was selected from an outstanding pool of 134 NICU professionals including NICU nurses, neonatologists, social workers and neonatal specialists from across the country. A team of judges composed of NICU professionals and parents selected the finalists and chose the overall winner.  Dr. Steven Shapiro, Dr. Cleary’s colleague of 23 years said Dr. Cleary deserved to receive the award because of his penchant for excellence and thoughtful demeanor.  “Dr. Cleary is a humble, soft spoken man with a deep passion for his work and the families in his care.  I can think of no one more deserving to be recognized as a NICU Hero,” Shapiro said.

Dr. Cleary surrounded by his family

Dr. Cleary and his family

Surrounded by five of his six kids (one son was away at college), his wife, many of his co-workers and friends, Dr. Cleary graciously spoke about his love of his work and how lucky he feels to have been blessed to have the love and support of his family and the opportunity to work with such an amazing team.  “I hit the jackpot,” said Dr. Cleary.  “It is an honor to be able to put my good fortune forward.”

In addition to a beautiful, custom made NICU Heroes Trophy, Dr. Cleary had the opportunity to name a charity to receive a donation of $2,500.  Dr. Cleary chose Simon’s Fund, a 501 (c )(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the conditions that lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death in athletes and young children.

In addition, Abington Memorial Hospital will receive a one year subscription to Hand to Hold’s NICU Resource Library, a repository of educational materials to complement family-centered care in the hospital.

Finalists for the award include Cathy Jagelewski, NICU Nurse, St. Mary’s Hospital, Evansville, IN; Suzie Glass, NICU Nurse, Methodist Germantown, Memphis, TN; Dr. John Loyd, neonatologist, Seton Healthcare, Austin, TX; Dr. Anthony Orsini, neonatologist, Atlantic Health, Morristown, NJ; Amy Garrett, NICU Nurse, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR; Dr. Jorge Rojas, neonatologist, Baptist Hospital, Nashville, TN; and Ann Christensen, NICU Nurse, Theda Clark Medical Center, Neenah, WI.

NICU families often struggle with the words to appropriately thank neonatal professionals for the difference they made in the lives of their children.  Hand to Hold is proud to partner with Mead Johnson nutrition to provide NICU families an opportunity to spotlight heroes that wear scrubs and stethoscopes rather than capes!

Kelli Kelley About Kelli Kelley

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.

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