NICU 101 Chats

Join Hand to Hold for an online educational program – Informal presentations and discussions on a variety of topics relevant to the care of your preemie, special needs child, family and yourself. We invite different speakers to discuss a range of topics, answer your questions and give you ideas that you can use to advocate for your child, yourself and your family. Have a topic or a speaker to recommend? Send your ideas to Support [at] handtohold [dot] org


TBD – Everything You Need to Know for RSV Season



Conscious Discipline

On Tuesday, September 15th at 3:00 pm CT, Megen Glass, M.Ed., Program Director at the Rise School, led a NICU 101 chat on Conscious Discipline: Raising Happy, Confident, and Resilient Kids.

About Megan Glass, M.Ed.

Megan GlassMegen joined the Rise family in the fall of 2010.  She began her experience at Rise as a practicum student in 2009 and accepted an open teaching position in 2010 as the Lead Teacher for the Preschool I class. The following year, Meg became the Lead Pre-Kindergarten Teacher, Transition Specialist and Educational Facilitator, for program and curriculum enhancement. Meg earned her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education with a minor in Psychology and a concentration in Human Development at The State University of New York at Geneseo. She then earned her master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education at The University of Texas at Austin.  Meg comes to us with experience working with young children in both the private and public school settings including Head Start and Universal Pre-Kindergarten in New York. In 2014, Meg was awarded the Austin Association for the Education of Young Children (AAEYC) Madeline Sutherland Teacher of the Year award. Meg now fulfills the position of Program Director to ensure the Rise model and high quality education is maintained at The Rise School of Austin. When asked, “Why Rise?” she answered, “As a life long learner, I want to surround myself with the BEST teachers and therapists in the field of early childhood. Teaching is my passion and inclusion is my mission. I believe that schools should reflect their community and every child deserves to see their world represented in their classroom.  We believe that each and every child is unique but together the picture is complete.  Everyone contributes to our classroom community and in the future, they will be productive members of the Austin society.  I love Rise and couldn’t picture being a part of a better learning community.”

NICU Myths: Getting Rid of the Guilt

Thanks for joining us at our NICU 101 Chat on “NICU Myths: Getting Rid of the Guilt” with Cheryl Milford, Developmental Psychologist and NICU Mental Health Professional from 10-11am CT on July 28, 2015.  NICU Psychologist and Parent Educator Cheryl Milford helped us bust some NICU myths to help us let go of the guilt – and show us how how what we have learned in the NICU can make us smarter, healthier, and more competent parents!

Here are the resources from the event:

Cheryl MilfordAbout Cheryl Milford, Ed.S.

Cheryl has been a practicing educational psychologist for 35 years. Cheryl has spent the last 31 years of her career providing psychological, neurodevelopmental and infant mental health services in neonatal intensive care units and developmental follow-up clinics.

Throughout her career, she has engaged in numerous research projects, program and project development and implementation. Cheryl has worked closely with physicians, nurses, early intervention professionals, mental health professionals and families to provide innovative, evidence-based services for at-risk families and young children.

Basic Infant Massage

Shalyn BravensOn Monday, June 22 at noon CST, certified educator of infant massage Shalyn Bravens, LMSW, CEIM and training program manager at Easter Seals of Central Texas answered our questions and thought us the basics of infant massage on Hand to Hold’s Facebook page.

Not only is infant massage a wonderful and relaxing way for you and your baby to bond, it is a proven method for promoting healthy cognitive development.

And did you know that babies as young as 30 weeks gestational age can begin receiving massage? Learn more on our Pinterest board which documents many of the resources that were shared.

Potty Training with Special Needs

Potty training is never simple! But when your child has special medical or developmental needs it can be even trickier. On May 14th, 2015 at 12pm CST, the therapists from Kidworks Therapy Services answered questions during our monthly chat from the Facebook event page.

Help! My Baby Won’t Eat. Real Tools to Help You and Your Baby

Hand to Hold held a NICU 101 Facebook chat on March 26, 2015 at 2pm CT tackling a topic many NICU families struggle with… feeding issues. While they are common, they are also frustrating. How do we give our babies the nutrition they need while still making feeding time enjoyable? Cuyler Romeo, OTR, M.O.T., Feeding Specialist and Director of Clinical Innovation for THERAPY2000 answered questions and offered practical tips and advice.  Facebook event page.

Helping Your Baby Develop Healthy Sensory Integration

Join us this month as we chat about sensory integration with Occupational Therapist Caren Arnold, OTD, OTR from Big Sky Pediatric Therapy on the Hand to Hold Facebook page wall on February 24, 2015 from 6pm to 7pm CST. She will be sharing her best tips for how to understand and address sensory issues in babies. Did you know there are things you can do in the NICU and at home to help your baby be more comfortable and learn to self-regulate?  She’ll answer questions about supporting your baby’s developing senses, how skin-to-skin care helps, why tummy time is so important and how to make feeding time pleasurable. Learn what sensory integration is all about – and get your baby off on a great start!

Caren ArnoldAbout Caren Arnold, OTD, OTR: Caren Arnold, OTD, OTR is an occupational therapist and owner of Big Sky Pediatric Therapy.  Caren Arnold received her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee in Exercise Science and her Clinical Doctorate in Occupational Therapy from Belmont University, Nashville. Caren has worked in private practice as well as inpatient and outpatient pediatric hospitals. She specializes in sensory integration, autism spectrum disorders, and dysgraphia. Specialty certifications include: The ALERT program, Interactive Metronome, Debra Beckman’s Oral Motor Skills and Mary Benbow’s foundational hand skills. Caren has also developed a cursive writing protocol, a curriculum for intensive print and cursive handwriting camps, and is skilled in conducting wheelchair and equipment evaluations.

 Breastfeeding Solutions for NICU Families

Join us in the new year as we chat with Clinical Nurse Educator Mona Liza Hamlin, BSN, IBCLC on the Hand to Hold Facebook page wall on January 13, 2015 from 11am to 12pm CST. She will be sharing her best breastfeeding solutions for NICU families. Have you struggled with pumping milk,  increasing your supply or helping your child to transition from the bottle to the breast?  Mom, NICU nurse, and Lactation Consultant Mona Liza Hamlin has answers and advice to help.  Mona is the owner of Breast for Baby Solutions and a board member of the National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color.

Mona Liza HamlinAbout Mona Liza Hamlin: Mona Liza Hamlin, BSN, IBCLC is a Clinical Nurse Educator and the Lactation Consultant at Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE. Through both her professional experience as a NICU nurse and her personal experience as a breastfeeding mother, Mona realized the importance of breastfeeding support. Fueled by her professional and personal passions to ensure that all mothers have access to quality breastfeeding support and resources, Mona used her experience to segue from bedside nursing to lactation. Mona’s fundamental belief is that equitable access and quality care are provided to all women, especially those of color and at highest risk. After earning the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) credential, Mona developed the Nemours Lactation Support Program, which provides inpatient, outpatient, and employee breastfeeding services. Mona serves as a member of the Delaware Healthy Mother & Infant Consortium and is a board member for the Breastfeeding Coalition of Delaware. She also serves as a board member of the National Perinatal Association and is member of United States Breastfeeding Committee. Through Breast for Baby Solutions, her most recent endeavor, Mona serves her local community offering private consultation with a holistic approach. Mona is currently completing her Masters in Nursing Leadership.

The Losses the NICU Deals Us

Join us for our next Facebook Chat on on the Hand to Hold FB wall Tuesday, October 28th from 8-9 pm CT. If you’ve experienced the NICU, chances are you’ve dealt with loss on some level.
-The loss of a normal pregnancy
-The loss of your third trimester
-The loss of bringing baby home with you
-The loss of a child
-The loss of control
-and many more…

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, so we wanted to honor that by discussing loss – the kind of loss that the NICU deals. Whether you’ve lost a child or not, you’ve lost something when you entered the NICU. Let’s come together with Resolve Through Sharing Lead Educator Jill Wilke and have an open conversation about loss.

As a bonus, Online Community Manager Angie Bickford will be randomly selecting several lucky winners to receive a gift – her exclusively designed Loving on a Loss Mom nail polish. If you have questions that you’d like us to post anonymously or you cannot be there, 
send your questions via message to the Hand to Hold Facebook page or by email to angie [at] handtohold [dot] org. Then, be sure to join us on our Hand to Hold Facebook page on the 28th.

Jill WilkeAbout Jill Wilke, BSN, RN, CPLS: Jill Wilke is a Resolve Through Sharing Lead Educator with Bereavement and Advance Care Planning Services of Gundersen Health System, in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Jill joined Bereavement Services in September of 2010 after 22 years of caring for patients at the bedside. Jill’s extensive nursing experience began in the Level III NICU at Evanston Northwestern Hospital, IL, where she cared for babies and their families for nine years. After moving to Onalaska, Wisconsin, Jill started working in the NICU and PICU at Gundersen Health System. After 5 years, she decided to expand her experience and moved to the Trauma and Emergency Center, where she was also a sexual assault nurse. Jill also served as the Organ/Tissue Donation Liaison at Gundersen Health System from 2008–2011. Today Jill serves as the Lead Educator for Bereavement Services, developing and updating training programs, and presenting nationally and internationally. Jill received her CPLC in 2013 and is currently working toward her MS in Nursing and Organizational Leadership at Winona State University.

Ask a NICU Nurse

Join us for our next Facebook Chat on on the Hand to Hold FB wall Wednesday, July 30th at 8:30 pm CT. Our guest will be Trish Ringley, NICU nurse, blogger, preemie-advocate, and more! This will be a unique chat, where attendees will be able to “ASK A NICU NURSE” and the floor is yours! What questions do you have? What do you wish you knew about NICU nurses? What does X mean? Trish will answer your questions! Please send questions ahead of time if possible to ensure that Trish can answer as many as possible. You can send your questions via message to the Hand to Hold Facebook page or by email to angie [at] handtohold [dot] org. Then, be sure to join us on our Hand to Hold Facebook page on the 30th. 

Trish Ringley150pxAbout Trish Ringley: Trish Ringley, RN, is a mother of two and has been a NICU nurse since 1997, practicing in Alaska, Colorado and California. She is a passionate NICU-parent advocate and has recently become active in the online world of NICU parent support. Initially she began blogging about the NICU from a nurse’s perspective at NICU Central, and more recently she created a beautiful online store that is devoted exclusively to serving the needs of NICU families, called EVERYtinyTHING. When she’s not at work at the NICU, you can find her on Facebook, blogging at NICU Central, or most of the time spreading a little joy through her store.

Overcoming Feeding Obstacles With Your NICU Baby

Join us for our next chat on the Hand to Hold FB wall where we’ll be talking with Julie Wahrenberger, M.S., CCC-SLP from Spring Branch Speech Therapy on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 8:30pm CT. On this month’s chat, we’ll be discussing feeding obstacles that preemies and NICU babies sometimes face and Julie will give tips and suggestions on how to help your baby overcome those obstacles.

Julie WahrenbergerAbout Julie Wahrenberger: Julie owns and operates Spring Branch Speech Therapy. She is nationally accredited by the American Speech, Language, and Hearing Association (AHSA) and licensed by the Texas State Board of Examiners. Julie has practiced in a pediatric outpatient therapy setting for one of the nation’s premiere children’s hospitals. She has also served as an independent contractor at both the elementary and middle school levels for the second largest school district in Texas. Within these unique settings, Julie has had the pleasure of working with a diverse caseload of patients. She has served children with autism, receptive and expressive language disorders, articulation disorders, feeding problems, hearing impairments and cochlear implants, motor speech disorders, stuttering, craniofacial disorders, neurological impairments, and genetic disorders. Julie received her undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University with a major in Communications and a minor in Linguistics. She earned her Master’s of Science degree in Communication Disorders from the Callier Center at the University of Texas in Dallas. Write to Julie at Julie [at] springbranchspeech [dot] com.

Healthy Sleep Habits: Sleep Training, Transitions & More

Join us for our next chat on the Hand to Hold FB wall where we’ll be talking with Lori Strong from Strong Little Sleepers on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Lori will help us navigate the world of sleep and learn why establishing healthy sleep habits is so important. Whether you’re trying to sleep train, in the middle of a transition, or in need of sleep yourself, this chat is sure to provide you with the tools to get on the right track. See the archived chat.

Lori StrongAbout Lori Strong: Lori Strong is a Certified Child Sleep Consultant and Certified Happiest Baby Educator. She is the founder and owner of Strong Little Sleepers, which was started on the idea that all families need and deserve to get a good night’s sleep. Lori was the first certified child sleep consultant in Austin, Texas and was honored as Best Sleep Expert in the 2013 Austin Birth Awards. She is also a member of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants. Lori combines her experience as an educator and a parent to offer customized sleep plans and support to families with children ages 0-6 across the country.

Lori educates and works with families on a variety of sleep issues including:

  • Establishing healthy sleep habits in the first year.
  • Newborn calming techniques and support
  • Nap scheduling
  • Sleep training (using a variety of methods)
  • Nap transitions
  • Moving from a crib to a bed
  • Eliminating bedtime battles
  • Managing sleep with siblings (including multiples)
  • Travel, new environments and how it affects sleep
  • Empowering children and parents

This chat is sponsored by:
St. David’s HealthCare – Providing exceptional care for the women of Central Texas. 

What to Expect if Your Baby Needs Therapy after the NICU – April 22, 2014

Join us for our next Facebook Chat on the Hand to Hold Facebook Wall on Tuesday, April 22nd, at 8:30 pm CT with Stacy Ramirez, the Child Find and Outreach Specialist for Any Baby Can’s Early Childhood Intervention Program, also known as ECI in Texas. While each state has various programs and many go by different names, Stacy will share basic information so that even attendees outside of Texas will benefit from the chat. See the archived chat.

Stacy will touch on what an early childhood intervention program does and how it relates to preemies and those who have had NICU stays. She will focus on how a child qualifies for the program, what the program consists of, options aside from the ECI program, how a parent can be an advocate for their child and work with their ECI therapists, what comes after ECI, and more.

Stacy RamirezAbout Stacy Ramirez: Stacy is the Child Find and Outreach Specialist for theAny Baby Can Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) Program. Stacy has five years of experience in the field of early childhood, beginning her ECI career as a Case Manager at Easter Seals Central Texas. Her educational background includes a Bachelors of Science from Texas State University with a Major in Psychology and a Minor in Family and Child Development. Stacy is also a certified teacher with training in Special Education. She is passionate about child development and loves that ‘baby smell.’ Stacy was raised in San Antonio (Go SPURS go!) and moved to Austin in 2006 to live the ‘Keep Austin Weird’ lifestyle in East Austin with her husband, dogs, cat, and six chickens.

This chat is sponsored by:
St. David’s HealthCare – Providing exceptional care for the women of Central Texas. 

Use Your Words: Keeping a Record of Your NICU Journey (and beyond) Through Journaling & More – March 21, 2014

Use Your Words Facebook Chat 3/19 and 3/21

Photo courtesy: Kate Hopper

Join us for our next Facebook Chat with writer, teacher, and author Kate Hopper as she shares how you can use your words in a powerful way during your preemie’s life.

This month, we are piloting a special evening chat time! You can choose to attend the chat on the Hand to Hold Facebook Wall on either Wednesday, March 19th, at 8:30 p.m. CT OR Friday, March 21st, during our regular time of 11:30 a.m. CT. While Kate will be joining us for both chats and will cover the same topics, we hope that opening the door to a nighttime audience will help more parents be able to attend!

Kate will share her advice from using her personal writing experience as a healing tool, as well as share some of the tips she covers in her book, Use Your Words. Whether you’re just starting your NICU journey, newly home, or beyond the stresses, writing can be a powerful way to cope with what life throws at us, and Kate will show you how to use your words for journaling, book-writing, keeping family updated, and more. Questions for Kate can be submitted via private message on Preemie Babies 101 Facebook Page.

As an added bonus, a review and giveaway of her memoir will be available on the Preemie Babies 101 Blog before the chat AND attendees will learn how they can win a copy Use Your Words!  See the full archive from the chat.

Kate Hopper, author

About Kate Hopper: Kate Hopper is the author of Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers. She teaches writing online and at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. Kate holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota and has been the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, two Minnesota State Arts Board Grants, and a Sustainable Arts Grant. Her writing has appeared in a number of journals, including Brevity, The New York Times online and Poets & Writers. She is an editor at Literary Mama. For more information about Kate’s writing and classes, visit

This chat is sponsored by:
St. David’s HealthCare – Providing exceptional care for the women of Central Texas. 

Impact of the NICU on Relationships – Learning Healthy Communication Tools – Friday, February 21, 2014


Join us on Friday, February 21, 2014 from 11:30am-12:30pm CT on Hand to Hold’s Facebook Wall for our next chat, which will feature psychologist Patricia Stuart, PhD. During the chat, Dr. Stuart will be discussing the impacts of a NICU stay or loss on relationships and how to foster healthy communication between partners. Traumatic events or prolonged periods of stress can wreak havoc on a marriage, and sometimes it can even lead to divorce. Navigating the NICU is difficult and men and women grieve differently, so it is essential to a relationship that you have the tools necessary to effectively communicate your feelings and stresses to your loved ones. Even after the NICU, life can be stressful as you adapt to the changes in your family, but there is hope. Dr. Stuart’s professional insight will help you feel more confident in yourself and open the lines of communication with your loved ones. Connect with fellow parents in the same boat and learn that you aren’t alone. Got a question? Feel free to submit it via private message on our Facebook page. I hope you’ll join us!

dr-stuart-feb-chatAbout Patricia Stuart, PhD: Psychologist Patricia Stewart has been helping couples and individual clients live more happily for over 25 years. Currently, her work is focused in a private practice setting. She also serves on boards as a consultant and speaker for non-profit organizations. Dr. Stuart is especially intrigued in partnering with couples as they navigate the stormy waters of adversity, change and loss.

Dr. Stuart graduated in 1989 from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center where she earned her doctorate in clinical psychology. Dr. Stuart enjoys two children, two young grandchildren and writing and performing songs along with her husband, Dr. Randy Frazier, also a psychologist.

Not Just Another Resolution – Making Self-Care Stick – Monday, January 27, 2014 CT

From 11:30 am to 12:30 pm CT on Hand to Hold’s Facebook wall

Peaceful woman relaxing at home with cup of tea


Join us Monday, January 27, 2014 from 11:30-12:30am CT on Hand to Hold’s Facebook Wall with Sarina LaMarche, Senior Career and Life Coach with Renee Trudeau & Associates, as we look at how to set realistic goals for self-care this year and how to make them stick, even if you sometimes fall off the wagon. Many of us will be tempted to fall into the “resolution trap” by setting goals that are beyond our reach or that are not realistic.  Our intentions are good, but life gets in the away — especially given the new complexities a NICU stay may have brought to your life.  Connect with fellow parents in the same boat and get re-energized this year so you are more rested, relaxed, healthier and more organized. Sound good? Feel free to submit your questions via private message our Facebook page. I hope to see you there!

Sarina LaMarcheAbout Sarina LaMarche: Minneapolis-based professional coach, therapist, and retreat leader Sarina LaMarche has been supporting women and men in navigating life’s transitions for two decades. She has also led workshops for mothers who experienced trauma during pregnancy and birth. Sarina is with Renee Trudeau & Associates and has been a senior career and life coach with Career Strategists and a RTA-Certified Facilitator since 2007.

She graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a M.A. in Psychology, Minnesota State University at Mankato with a B.S. Magna Cum Laude, and she has completed additional graduate coursework in career counseling at the University of North Dakota. Sarina is a trained Circle of Life Facilitator, a holistic mind/body wellness coaching program, a member of the International Coaches Federation and is active in the Minnesota Coaches Association. You can connect with her and follow her on her personal blog.

Coping While Under Quarantine – Wednesday, December 11, 2013

From  11:30 am to 12:30 pm CT on Hand to Hold’s Facebook wall

Hispanic mother holding an infant


Feeling Bah HumBug about the holidays this year?  Parents joined us Wednesday, December 11th at 11:30 am CST on Hand to Hold’s Facebook wall as we look at ways to celebrate the holidays and enjoy meaningful family time even when you hear the dreaded word “quarantine.”  Emma Trenti Paroli, NICU mom of a 29-weeker and co-author of Preemies: the Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies and IOS app MyPreemie shared advice on how to cope with an extended stay at home to reduce a child’s chances of infection and rehospitalization. See the archive of this chat.

Topics included:
* Ways to include family without being in the same house
* Why being under quarantine can bring opportunities to begin new traditions
* How choosing to celebrate this holiday with just you and your newest blessing(s) can be a peaceful and reflective opportunity to enjoy some much needed and deserved downtime. We also provided tools and discussed ways to help family understand the importance of your choice to avoid large gatherings, as well as things to keep in mind if you begin feeling down when seeing all the posts and pictures online of family gatherings you might be missing out on.

Emma Trenti ParoliEmma Trenti Paroli, a science  and medical news writer and NICU mom, has authored cover stories for L’Espresso and other leading publications. She is the co-author of Preemies: the Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies and the co-creator of the new IOS app MyPreemie with Dana Wechsler Linden and Dr. Mia Wechsler Doron. She and Dana met when their children shared the same room in the neonatal intensive care unit. Emma lives in New York City with her husband and son.

The Many Shades of the Baby Blues – November 21, 2013

Mature woman gives solace to crying adult daughter


Social worker and neonatologist Dr. Sue Hall explored the truths behind the emotions many of us face before and after delivery.  What should you do when the crying won’t stop? When is it not just “baby blues”? When do symptoms start? Six weeks… six months… a year? What does it mean when bonding with your child doesn’t happen right away?  When will these empty feelings go away?  Dr. Hall helped participants understand the symptoms, both well known and lesser known, as well as the treatment options, when to seek help and why this is not your fault. See the archived chat with resources.

Sue Hall MDAbout Sue Hall, MD: Neonatologist Dr. Sue Hall, a Kansas City native, is the author of For the Love of Babies and an advocate for improving the NICU parent experience. Board Certified in both Pediatrics and Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine.  She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a member of its Section on Perinatology, and a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society.  Dr. Hall started her tenure as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Perinatal Association in 2012, and is Legislative Chair for the Kansas March of Dimes. She serves as a  member of the Kansas Commission on Maternal-Child Health and is a board member of the Ronald McDonald House in Topeka, Kansas.  She is a past member of the California Association of Neonatologists and a former board member of the California Perinatal Association.

Dr. Hall earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Human Biology and attained her Master’s degree in social work which she practiced for several years before entering medical school. She graduated from University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Medicine, and completed an Internship and Residency in Pediatrics at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. She  served a term as Chief Resident in Pediatrics.  and completed a Fellowship in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine in 1989. After moving to California, she joined the faculty of the University of California – Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine. In 2004, Dr. Hall returned to the Midwest to become Medical Director of a 36-bed NICU in Topeka, Kansas.

Keep Your Child Well During RSV, Cold & Flu Season – October 23, 2013

Neonatologist Dr. Mitchell Goldstein and RSV parent advocate Kristen Padavic answered your questions about RSV, colds and flu and provided their best advice to help families make informed decisions to keep their NICU grad and family healthy during RSV, cold, and flu season.  Attendees learned about precautions to take that are proven to reduce exposure to these illnesses and reduce a child’s chances of contracting a severe form of the illness.  Parents found out why doctors advise quarantine and how to cope with the social isolation from a parent who has been there.  A seasoned NICU parent whose children caught RSV twice shared what she knows now that she wished she knew when her children were small. And if your child is heading into a second or third RSV season, participants learned what a neonatologist advises about how to stay healthy in the long term.  See the archived chat with resources.

Mitchell Goldstein, MDAbout Mitchell Goldstein, MD, FAAP: Dr. Mitchell Goldstein is Medical Director Emeritus and Fellowship Coordinator of the Neonatal ICU in the Family Birth & Newborn Center at Citrus Valley Medical Center in West Covina, California. He completed his undergraduate and medical school in the University of Miami’s six-year Honors Medical Program on the Dean’s List and Phi Beta Kappa. He completed his Pediatrics residency at UCLA and Neonatology fellowship at UC Irvine. He is on the editorial board of the Journal of Perinatology. He is past president of the Perinatal Advisory Council: Leadership, Advocacy & Consultation (PAC-LAC), is the editor of PAC-LAC’s Guidelines of Care, and is PAC-LAC’s CME Research Chairman. He is past president of the National Perinatal Association. He is on the board of the American Academy of Pediatrics Perinatal Section. He is an Associate Professor in Pediatrics at Loma Linda University Medical Center. He is Board Certified in both Pediatrics and Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He is fluent in Spanish.

Kristen PadavicAbout Kristen Padavic:  Kristen Padavic is the mother of identical twin daughters, Grace and Eva, born at 30 weeks, who spent four and five weeks in the NICU.  She spent a month on bedrest while fighting off preterm labor, culminating in pre-eclampsia which forced her early delivery. During that first year, her daughters contracted RSV twice, which quickly opened their eyes to how different their parenting journey was from the other families around them. In her quest to connect with other NICU families, she signed on to lead the Family Advisory Committee at the NICU where her girls were born outside of Chicago, was involved in a national media campaign to raise awareness of RSV, and is currently a board member for Hand to Hold. Kristen has a Masters of Architecture from Harvard University and is a licensed architect in Texas and Illinois.

Parents and Kids Checklist for Managing Back to School Stress – August 28, 2013

Pediatric psychologist and NICU parent Dina O’Brien shared her best advice and answered questions about reducing anxiety (for your child and you!) of starting preschool, entering kindergarten, or going back to school.  Should you hold your child back a year?  How do you set up services if you think they need them? What’s the best way to get all the teachers on board?  See the archived chat with resources.

Dina O'BrienAbout Dina O’Brien: Dina O’Brien (TX) is a mother to four boys and a licensed pediatric psychologist. Her youngest son, Reece, was born at 36 weeks due to Dina’s severe placenta previa and Reece’s omphalocele. He endured a 36-day NICU stay, 7 surgeries and 3 months of hospital stays his first year. Dina admits her professional background in pediatric health psychology did little to prepare her for the challenges she and her family faced. However, the experience now gives her an edge in better supporting her patients, their families, and in educating healthcare providers and other parents.

Turning Your Everyday – Into Speech & Language Play – July 30, 2013

Bilingual Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist Lisa Rukovena, MA, CCC-SLP from RiverKids Pediatric Home Health answered questions and shared tips to help parents make the most of play and everyday activities to advance their child’s speech, language and oral skills. See the archived chat with resources.

Lisa Rukovena, MA, CCC-SLPAbout Lisa Rukovena: Lisa Rukovena, MA, CCC-SLP is a licensed bilingual speech language pathologist and currently works for RiverKids Pediatric Home Health. She received her MA from the University of Texas at Austin.

Parenting Children with Special  Health Concerns – June 5, 2013

Parent Educator Lisa C. Greene of Parenting Children with Health Issues, a mother of two children with cystic fibrosis and a parenting educator, answered questions and shared parenting tips to help your child cope with challenges, medical requirements and live a hope-filled life. Parents learned more about overprotection and how to identify ways to set healthy boundaries and nurture their child. See the archived chat with resources!

Lisa GreeneAbout Lisa C. Greene: Lisa C. Greene is a parenting educator, mother of two children who have cystic fibrosis, and co-author of Parenting Children with Health Issues. She is a certified parent coach from ACPI. Lisa has also completed Love and Logic’s facilitator training program and is a Certified Positive Discipline Educator. Lisa is currently working on her Master’s Degree in Family Life Education. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Central Washington University.

Caring for Older Siblings – Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hensel Siblings

Photo credit: Hensel Family

Hand to Hold held a Facebook Chat from  10:30 to 11:30 am CT on Hand to Hold’s Facebook wall where Child Life Specialist Julie May from Dell Children’s Medical Center shared resources and answered parent questions about caring for older siblings during and after a child’s NICU or subsequent hospital stay. Families joined us on Facebook as we shared stories, resources, and much more.  See the archived chat with resources!

About Julie May: Julie May is a Child Life Specialist at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas. She was previously a Child Life Specialist for Our Children’s House, which is part of the Baylor Health Care System in the DFW area. Julie is a busy mother of three and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin.

Empowering the Cerebral Palsy Parent, Thursday March 21, 2013

Edison taking first steps

Photo credit: Woods Family

Hand to Hold held a Facebook Chat from 1:00 to 2:00 pm CT on Hand to Hold’s Facebook wall where Dr. Mary Elizabeth Parker answers parents’ CP-related questions. Many families that start life in the NICU have a long road ahead with countless specialists, therapies, and diagnosis.  For a lot of these families Cerebral Palsy is one (possibly of many) diagnosis. See the archived chat and resources that were shared.

Dr. Mary Elizabeth ParkerAbout Dr. Mary Elizabeth Parker: Dr. Parker graduated from Duke University in 1991 with a double major in biological psychology and physical anthropology. She completed her Master’s degree in physical therapy in 1995 at the Medical College of Virginia. Her doctoral work in differential diagnosis was completed in 2012 at Texas Woman’s University. Dr. Parker is a clinical assistant professor at Texas State University where she teaches neuroanatomy and pediatric physical therapy. She is licensed to practice physical therapy in Texas and Connecticut. She continues to have an active research agenda in movement disorders in autism with her colleagues in the northeast from SUNY, Sacred Heart, and Fairfield University. She also has research interests in Rett syndrome, mitochondrial disorders, and differential diagnosis. She has received a certificate in Advanced Pediatric Therapy from Texas Woman’s University in 2004, followed by board specialization in both pediatric and neurologic physical therapy from American Board of Physical Therapy Specialists. Her dual certification in pediatrics and neurology is unique in the profession.

She is an item writer both for the national PT and PTA exams and the pediatric specialist exam.

Her passion for the undiagnosed is channeled through this work and her role as medical liaison for U.R. Our Hope, a locally-based, but national group that assists individuals with undiagnosed and rare disorders at any age or any stage.

Caring for Your Emotional Health Before, During and After a NICU Stay- Monday October 29, 2012

Dawn K. Gibson, LCSW of Mindful Mothering discussed tips, information and strategies you can use to care for yourself during your pregnancy, NICU stay and long beyond. Learn about symptoms of PPD, anxiety, depression and PTSD. Learn what to watch for and get your questions answered so you have what you need to thrive in the midst of challenging times.

Early Childhood Education Seminars

MORE FREE WORKSHOPS The Region 13 Educational Service Center in Austin offers workshops and conferences for parents and professionals alike.

Here are some upcoming educational workshops you may be interested in:

  • Improving Early Childhood Outcomes on November 13, 2012
  • Handwriting Without Tears:Get Set for School™ Pre-K Readiness on December 11, 2012

If you are interested in attending any of these email Erika [at] handtohold [dot] org

Making the Transition from ECI: Finding the Right Preschool Setting for Your Child – Friday, August 24, 2012

Parents and families found out how to make the transition from ECI and how to find the right preschool setting for their children.  This event was held from  10:00 to 11:30am at Easter Seals Central Texas Early Childhood Intervention Center and answered the following questions:

  • Has your child been receiving Early Childhood Intervention Services?
  • Are you wondering what will happen when they turn three?
  • Or is your child older than three and you think they could benefit from preschool services for children with disabilities?
  • What should you do, if your child doesn’t qualify for PPCD?


Early Childhood Education Conference

On Tuesday, July 24 and Wednesday, July 25, 2012. Hand to Hold parents attended the Early Childhood Education & Beat the Heat Conference 2012 at the Region 13 Educational Service Center in Austin.

Topics included:

Wednesday morning’s session was a special keynote session with Dan Habib, the father and filmmaker behind Including Samuel.

SUMMER’S HERE! Things to do in Austin with Kids with Special Needs – June 25, 2012

Hand to Hold hosted a Lunch and Learn at Dell Children’s Outpatient Rehab where we talked with family and providers about fun stuff to do with kids in and around Austin (paying special attention to getting out and about with special needs).  We talked about places to go, things to do at home, and many of the local attractions that are either designed with special needs in mind, or are very inclusive to the special needs community.  If you would like to see details on the locations and activities we talked about check out CLU Campaign’s  Things to do with Kids.  In addition to details on the locations and activities there are also notes from parents.  There are forms to make it easy to add your own activity and/or location as well as notes to existing entries.  All of the handouts and material discussed at the June Lunch and Learn is available for download on CLU.

Home Health for the NICU Graduate – May 14, 2012

Hand to Hold hosted a Lunch and Learn on Home Health for the NICU Graduate on May 14th, 2012 from 12:pm- 1:pm at Encompass Home Health. A discussion led by Rhea Fryar, Austin Area Manager, discussed questions and issues related to setting up Home Health for those babies who may need in-home medical care after the NICU.  Home health providers can make the transition from NICU to home easier. Tips for insurance coverage were shared in addition to loopholes to get the care your baby needs, how to select the right provider for your family, and how to get home health for your child.

Feeding and Nutrition for the NICU Grad – Part II – April 16, 2012

Families and providers joined us on April 16th for the second part of our Lunch and Learn about preemie feeding issues beyond infancy.  A panel of experts will answer questions and demystify the different types of feeding tubes, feeding clinics and swallow studies. A pediatric dietitian will also talk about some things to consider when your child is not able to consume a standard pediatric diet.

Materials Shared:

In effort to reach more of our families and professionals outside the Austin area as well as those that are not able to attend we are partnered with Mommies of Miracles.  The material supplied with our April Lunch and Learn was shared then a Facebook Event – MOMTalk offered another opportunity to ask questions, learn more great tips, and wrap up our Feeding Facts topic.  This Facebook event was on Wednesday, April 25th at 10:AM CST.

The Facebook Event was presented by Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP of My Munch Bug.  Melanie is a national speaker on the topic of “feeding” and helping children learn to be more adventurous eaters. She works with a variety of children, from infants, to toddlers and preschoolers with medical challenges that impact their ability to enjoy food, to garden-variety picky eaters. Her advice has been shared in numerous publications, blogs and seminars. Mel is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the executive producer of the acclaimed children’s CD, Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food! Our panel will talk about all of the common feeding questions, concerns, share tips, and much more.  This session is sure to be packed full.  We hope that you will be able to join us.

Feeding and Nutrition for the NICU Grad – Part I – February 24, 2012

February 2012 Lunch and Learn

Lactation Consultant and NICU Nurse Kay Gregorio leads the Lunch & Learn session.

Hand to Hold will be hosting our next Lunch and Learn on Friday, February 24, 2012 from 12-1 pm at Austin’s First Steps High Risk Follow-Up Clinic. We will feature information on “Feeding and Nutrition for the NICU Grad” where we’ll be sharing what you need to know about nutrition and feeding to help your preemie grow and thrive. Our experts will discuss the pros and cons of both breast milk and formula, how and why to fortify breast milk, and tips for mothers to help mothers’ increase their milk production.

New Year-New You: The Importance of Self-Care – January 30, 2012

On Monday, January 30th we had a panel of speakers talk about ways for moms to stay healthy (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and socially)

  • Rhonda McMahon – a preemie mom and facilitator of Personal Renewal for Special Needs Moms.
  • Jenn Larson, mom and co-founder of Austin’s Bump Club and Beyond, which provides local programs for moms and moms-to-be
  • Kathryn Whitaker, a mother of 5 and NICU vet who will share survival tips for while you’re in the NICU or at home with a medically-fragile child

Resources from January’s session “New Year, New You”:

Medicaid Buy-In for Children – December 9, 2011

On Friday, December 9th Kaye Beneke with Texas Health and Human Services introduced us all to a fairly new program- Medicaid Buy-In for Children (MBIC).  MBIC is a way for families to get their children with special needs Medicaid services.

Resources from MBIC:

(All of the files above can also be found on the MBIC page– English & Spanish available)

All About Special Needs Trusts – November 10, 2011

On Thursday, November 10th Ronald G. Greening of Greening Associates answered our questions about Special Needs Trusts. This legal and financial tool helps parents to secure a better financial future for their child and protects your families benefits and legal rights. Contact The Greening Law Firm, P.C. for a complimentary consultation.
Resources from Greening Law Firm:

What Medicaid Waivers Are Right for You? – October 25, 2012

On Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 – Ginny Grote from the Medically Dependent Children Program (MDCP) and Elizabeth Tucker from EveryChild helped unravel the mysteries of Medicaid programs. They answered questions such as the following: What is a Medicaid Waiver? What is an interest list? What is Rider 28? How long is the wait? And how do you choose the correct program?
Resources from the Medicaid Waiver presentation:

Early Childhood Education Programs: ECI and the Transition to PPCD – September 7, 2011

On Wednesday, September 7th Marty Barnes and a panel of experts discussed Early Childhood Education Programs: ECI and the Transition to PPCD. Those who attended got personalized information on how to navigate the system whilew moving from one program to the next! If you are looking for help for your child (birth to three) watch this video by Texas Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) to learn more about what they offer visit  Texas ECI: Family to Family

The 411 on ECI and PPCD (including a side-by-side comparison)

MED 101: Your Guide to Medical Specialists – July 13, 2011

Parents and professionals sat down for lunch at  Rolly Pollies (Shops at the Galleria, 12700 Shops Pkwy, Suite 450, Bee Cave, TX 78738) on July 13, 2011 to hear Stephanie Key, R.N., M.S.N., C.P.N.P. from Austin Diagnostic Clinic Pediatrics present “MED 101: Your Guide to Medical Specialists.” Stephanie presented useful information about what different specialists do and how to build a team that will best fit your child’s needs. Our great thanks go out again to John Mann and his staff at Rolly Pollies for hosting us and for creating a place where  every child has fun and is included! Download this helpful guide to Medical Terms, Specialties, and Procedures.

Summer’s Here: Fun and Inclusive Activities for Your Family – June 8, 2011

Parents and providers came out on June 8, 2011 from 12:00 p.m to 1 p.m. at The Live Oak Center for Communication Disorders (3724 Jefferson St., Suite 316; Austin, Texas) for the initial discussion on “Summer’s Here: Fun and Inclusive Activities for Your Family.”  See a link to a comprehensive list of summer activities and ideas that were shared. Thanks to Marty Barnes for compiling this list.

Note: Hand to Hold’s Discussion Series is now called Lunch & Learn.

As of May 16, 2012, Hand to Hold changed the educational series format from an evening discussion series to a shorter, over lunch format which accommodated more schedules of families and providers. The previous Discussion Series topics will be archived on this page for your convenience.

What About Healthy Siblings – May 15, 2011

The May Quarterly Discussion Series was held on Sunday, May 15, 2011 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Covenant Presbyterian Church in North Austin. Panelists  also shared suggestions about how to carve out special sibling time and how parents can work at finding balance, while freeing themselves from the guilt associated with parenting children with different needs. Parents walked away with a better understanding of the struggles siblings in families of children with special health and developmental needs face and received practical suggestions on how to effectively support siblings.

Panelists who spoke at the event included the following:

Dinner was graciously provided by Buster’s BBQ and Rise and Shine Bakery. Read a recap of what was discussed.

Maintaining Emotional Engagement: Re-focusing the Eyes of Your Hearts – February 18, 2011

In keeping with Valentine’s Day, the most recent quarterly discussion series entitled “Maintaining Emotional Engagement: Re-focusing the Eyes of Your Hearts” was held February 18, 2011. When our worlds have been turned upside-down by an early birth, medical complications or the loss of a child, we seldom have the time or energy to nurture each other. Couples turned out to hear guest presenter, David Griffin, licensed professional counselor and board certified professional Christian counselor, talk about the tools needed to make their relationship with a partner a safe harbor. The discussion was open to and designed for believers of all faiths. Review the Powerpoint presentation.

Couples enjoyed a date night! This interactive presentation included activities for both partners to do together. Couples enjoyed dinner compliments of Dream Dinners (620 North location) and dessert courtesy of La Pâtisserie by Luxe Sweets.  The Discussion Series was held at Covenant Presbyterian Church from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

David Griffin, MA, LPC, BCPCC, is licensed as a professional counselor and is a board certified professional Christian counselor with the International Board of Christian Counselors. Since 1984 he has dedicated his life to helping individuals and couples transform their lives by renewing the mind and living in emotional authenticity. His clinical training and expertise is in cognitive therapy for individuals and emotion-focused couples therapy, which complement scriptures. David has served adults, couples and adolescents in outpatient and inpatient settings with relationship issues, grief/loss, spiritual issues, stress/anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns.

David received his undergraduate degree at Texas Tech University in psychology and a Master’s degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also the author of Date Smart to Marry for Life published in the spring 2010. He currently in private practice in Austin, Texas where he lives with his spirited and lovely wife, Susan. They have been married since 1985 and share three, successful adult children.

Getting the Most Out of Early Intervention – September 30, 2010

The Fall 2010 Quarterly Discussion Series was held September 30, 2010 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Dell Children’s Medical Center in the Signe Auditorium. The event featured a talk about “Getting the Most Out of Early Intervention” by Chris Watkins of Early Childhood Intervention (ECI). 

Review videos from the event:

Early childhood presents a brief window of opportunity to influence lifelong development and to prevent or minimize developmental challenges. Chris Watkins shared how to get the most out of early intervention, what happens upon transition out of the ECI program and what ongoing therapies may be necessary for continued developmental growth.

Local therapy practices which attended:

  • Any Baby Can
  • Children’s Therapeutics
  • Children’s Therapy Services
  • Dell Children’s Medical Center
  • Early Childhood Intervention
  • Growing Places Therapy
  • KidWorks Therapy
  • Language & Movement
  • Little Tesoros
  • Live Oak Center for Communication Disorders
  • Red Wagon
  • Sante Pediatric Services
  • WaterWay Babies

Following her talk, a panel of local therapists answered questions from the audience on a wide variety of topics. Panelists who attended included Doug Levine, PLLC, Growing Places Therapy Services; Jill Munch, CCC, SLP, Red Wagon Therapy; Donna Young-Smith, Little Tesoros; and Katie Navarro, PT, Dell Children’s Medical Center. They each underscored the importance of checking things out and asking questions if parents feel something isn’t right or have a suspicion. The earlier issues are addressed, the better it is. They encouraged parents to not be afraid to call if they had questions later on. After the panel, representatives from 13 local therapy practices attended for introductions and to answer questions.

Research shows early intervention has profoundly positive effects on preemies who may need assistance reaching developmental milestones. Because each child is different, some challenges may be seen early, and some many not be identified until a child starts school. Accessing developmental milestone checklists using the child’s adjusted age can be helpful as well as keeping in touch with your child’s pediatrician.

What Parents Said

“It was good to see you and the meeting was so informative. I now understand some of what is going on to this day with Jakey.” ~ Irma Schneider

“My husband and I really enjoyed the discussion series again last night. Thank you for offering this great resource to parents and we look forward to many more in the future.” ~ Katrina Moline

Chris Watkins is a certified, licensed speech language pathologist. She has worked for over 25 years in several capacities in the Texas Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) system as an assistant program director, training coordinator, a speech language pathology contractor, and as a staff ECI speech language pathologist.

Mind-Body Connection and Prematurity – June 23, 2010

Dr. Jennifer Gunter
The inaugural Discussion Series featured Dr. Jennifer Gunter, a nationally and internationally renowned obstetrician/gynecologist, mother and recent author of The Preemie Primer. Dr. Gunter discussed the “Mind-Body Connection and Prematurity” on June 23, 2010, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The free event was open to the public and took place at St. David’s Medical Center, 911 East 32nd St., Austin, Texas, in the Conference Hall (Basement).

Mind-Body Connection & Prematurity Videos:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Whether it’s been days or years since you’ve uttered the words “premature” or “NICU”, meeting Dr. Jennifer Gunter was a do-not-miss opportunity for families whose pregnancy did not go as planned. If your baby is in the NICU or already in kindergarten…If you’re managing ongoing medical care or feel as though the entire experience is long behind you… this discussion was valuable in understanding how your well-being has been affected. The adage “take care of yourself so you can take care of others” certainly applies here. Dr. Gunter likens the birth of a premature baby to “being dropped in a foreign country without a guide, a map or language skills.”She delved into the science behind the mind-body connection and how it helps parents ensure their children reach their full potential.

She also shared techniques, the benefit of support programs, and unrecognized symptoms of depression and PTSD. Even if you feel unfazed, this unique opportunity will strengthen your ability to support friends who have a similar experience or help as you serve as a volunteer peer in Hand to Hold’s Helping Hands program which matches seasoned NICU parents with recent NICU families.

Parents who’ve shared a similar journey met one another and heard from Dr. Gunter. Parents who’ve shared a similar journey met one another and heard from Dr. Gunter. Read her personal story.

Dr. Jennifer Gunter is an Internationally renowned OB/GYN and leader in the field of women’s pain medicine. She is also the mother of three boys born extremely prematurely, two of whom survived. She is the author of The Preemie Primer, a comprehensive and practical resource for parents of premature babies to help guide them from pregnancy, through the NICU, to the toddler years and beyond.