When a child is born preterm or with a special health care need, they face many challenges—from simply breathing on their own to regulating their body temperature to learning to eat from bottle or breast. Unfortunately, many face significant challenges—from the need for surgery just hours after birth to infection and brain bleeds. Once home, the challenges sometimes continue for many months and in some cases for a lifetime.
Even late term preemies (babies born between 34-36 weeks) often face medical and developmental challenges. For a preemie, there are often muscle tone, balance and information (both auditory and visual) processing delays which can postpone milestones and impede learning and school readiness.
As a parent, it is excruciating to watch your child struggle during a NICU stay. And those same feelings of guilt, frustration, fear, helplessness and exhaustion often persist long after a NICU stay as you work to provide your child with every opportunity to meet their full potential. That is why Hand to Hold’s Preemie Power Photo and Essay Contest is so important. The annual contest offers a way for parents to pause, reflect and celebrate the tremendous progress of their babies, infants and children. And in some cases, it is a time to remember and honor a child that was unable to overcome their mighty villains.
Shortly after naming our first Preemie Power winners in 2010, I visited one of the winners at his home. I had the pleasure of getting to know “Thundering Thurston” Mossholder and his amazing mom Donna during Thurston’s long journey in the hospital. The day Thurston was named the winner of Preemie Power, his parents received word that he would soon be coming home. Unfortunately, Thurston experienced major medical complications and was released from the hospital into hospice care on his first birthday. Donna graciously allowed me to visit Thurston at their home so I could say goodbye. One of the first things I noticed as I entered the room was Thurston’s green Preemie Power cape hanging by his crib. As I talked to and patted that precious baby and tried to wrap my mind around the fact that his fight was drawing to a close, Donna told me how important the Preemie Power Contest was to her and her family. She said it provided her an outlet to share Thurston’s story in a positive way that shed light on the amazing miracle that he was, the lives that he touched, love that he brought into her life and the many lessons he taught her and others despite the tremendous challenges he faced and the sadness surrounding the battle that ultimately he would not overcome.
I knew then, that Hand to Hold would make its Preemie Power Contest an annual event. We named one of the awards after Thurston and each year the winner with the most votes receives the Thundering Thurston Award, which in addition to a super hero cape includes Thurston’s favorite toy “Mini Glow,” his superhero sidekick – a GloWorm. Donna is a talented seamstress and has donated her time to make Preemie Power super hero capes for our contest winners, a sweet tribute.
She wrote these words (read the full story) as she reflected on her super hero:
“Thurston made me look outside of myself and my own problems and realize just how lucky we have been on this journey and has encouraged me to reach out to others who are hurting.
Most importantly, Thurston has taught me to hope more than I ever thought I could. In the beginning, I believed so much of the worst case scenarios that were thrown my way. Just when I thought he was out of the woods, Thurston was again knocking on death’s door and instead of believing the worst would happen I clung onto the most amazing and overwhelming feeling of hope, realizing not only had he proven time and time again that he has the ability to overcome obstacle after obstacle, but that he deserved a mother that was as strong, as tenacious, as stubborn, as persistent, and as brave as her son had grown to be.”
Preemie Power is much more than a photo and essay contest. It is a celebration of amazing kids and their families who have faced tremendous obstacles and conquered them with love, faith and sheer determination.
Preemie Power contest entries will be accepted beginning October 5, 2015, voting will occur October 23-30, and winners will be announced October 30, 2015, just in time for Prematurity Awareness Month. Three winners and a Grand Prize winner will be chosen based on votes and one winner will be chosen that is not based on votes. Preemie and Term NICU babies are invited to enter. No one is too young or old to enter!
We hope that if you are a NICU parent, you will enter your child’s story beginning September 29, 2014. And we invite all our followers to visit PreemiePower.org each day between October 17 and 31 to cast a vote for your favorite Preemie and NICU Super Heroes. Winners will be chosen in five age categories and a category not based on votes – so no one is too young or too old to enter!
May God Bless all of our past and future Preemie Power contestants and their families.
To infinity and beyond!