Meet Our Bloggers
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.
Managing Editor, Hand to Hold - Leigh Ann Torres is a writer, creator 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 online content 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.
Krystle “KG” Gervais joined Hand to Hold as their first Marketing Director in March of 2019.
Krystle comes to Hand to Hold after a direct connection to the mission through her son, who they call Bug, who was born at 34 weeks due to preeclampsia. During this very intimidating and overwhelming time, she and her husband found a support group and the bead program that celebrated the wins while in St. David’s NICU.
Krystle holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communications from Sam Houston State University and a Graduate Certificate in Non-Profit Management from Texas A&M University. She has spent the last 11 years working in the non-profit industry working as a fundraiser, event lead, program support and marketing manager.
Krystle is a die-hard Britney & Ariana fan, loves stand-up, is probably binge-watching the newest show and lives by her paper planner.
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.
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 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 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 Deshpande (CA) is a micropreemie mom and the leading high-risk pregnancy expert who specializes in helping women stay pregnant as long as possible, even if they're facing pregnancy complications. Parijat is the host of Delivering Miracles® and is a clinically trained therapist, a women’s wellness expert and an experienced speaker on the impact of stress on health and wellness.
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 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.
Ali Dunn is the founder of Me Two Books and the author of four children’s books: I Was a Preemie Just Like You, I Needed the NICU Just Like You, One of Two, a Twin Story about Individuality, and The Career Explorer: An Introduction to Career Development and STEAM Careers. She is also the creator of an e-course for parents about Career Exploration. Ali is the chief mom officer of identical twins born at 28 weeks via emergency c-section. You can learn more about her books at metwobooks.com and connect with her on her blog, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
(CA) Mia is a freelance health and nutrition writer living in San Diego, CA. She is also the mom of 28-week identical twin girls, one of whom was born with a congenital heart defect. Spending 14 months in the children's hospital was rough, so Mia now dedicates her free time to advocating for hospitalized children and their families. You can learn more about her at LittleOctopus.org.
Stephanie Durfee is a blogger, photographer, advocate, and early intervention and education specialist. She left her career as Director of Education at school for kids with autism to take care of her 26 week micropreemie miracle, Addie Belle. Adeline spent most of the first two years of her life in the hospital, has had several surgeries, and still is dealing with a rare disease, short bowel syndrome. Stephanie began helping families and created SheGotGuts.com, an educational blog and website that focuses on prematurity, medical complexities, early intervention, advocacy and even travel! Stephanie is a contributor for The Mighty, has been featured on podcasts and has partnered with big brands such a Carters & Pampers for Preemie Awareness campaigns, fundraisers, and awareness. You can also find Stephanie on Instagram and Facebook.
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.
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.
Lexi Losch joined Hand to Hold in December 2018 as the Community Engagement Specialist to bring awareness to the Austin community about the many ways that Hand to Hold can socially and emotionally support families before, during and after a NICU experience. She lives in Pflugerville, TX, with her husband and three children. She holds a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Master’s in Higher Education from the University of Miami. Lexi recently completed a Master’s in Professional Counseling, as she realized after her own experience with perinatal mood disorders, that there weren’t enough resources and mental health clinicians of color dedicated to supporting the transition into motherhood and beyond.
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 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 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 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 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. Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 4, Ben refuses to let anything hold him back! He has blown everyone away at his special education preschool and is ready to take on the brave new world of elementary school!
Katie Reginato Cascamo, M.A. is the Founder & Principal Consultant for Courageous Steps, that offers management and leadership consulting to organizations that care for preemies and special needs by providing tools for meaningful organizational health and employee engagement. Katie also leads a workforce development program for families benefiting from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) through Goodwill Industries. Her son, Giovanni, was born 2 ½ months premature at 2 ½ pounds in 2009 is now a healthy and strong second grader who wins 5Ks in his age group, is a gymnast, loves YMCA and excels in school.
Lindsay Rosenfeld is a mother, connector, teacher, public health scientist and constant student. Her professional and personal lives crashed together when she and her husband, Andrés, became parents to (former) 28w 5d micropreemies. Mateo and Eliana's rapid entrance into this world via emergency c-section was precipitated by 2.5 weeks hospitalized bed rest, prompted by unexplained shortened cervix and PPROM. At birth, the delivery / NICU team also discovered that Mateo had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. After spending separate 72 and 90 day NICU stints in different hospitals 1 block apart, Eliana and Mateo are thriving amidst a long list of medical and developmental interventions and surveillance. Lindsay is working to integrate her past and current professional roles in public health with varied personal experiences in the health system and beyond. She is intent on creating equitable opportunities for all families to enjoy optimal physical, mental and community health.
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. Eric and his wife, Miri, live in Washington state. Eric was a newspaper reporter in the late 90s, and is now working in the auditing field. 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, entitled Too Young To Save: Our Premature Baby, My Weakness and God's Strength. You can find him on Twitter @MicroPreemieDad, or his personal blog.
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 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 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 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.
Melissa Vandermeer (TX) is a native Austinite and wife to a super cute Austin firefighter. She is a former kindergarten teacher turned (never)stay-at-home mom, entrepreneur, and freelance writer. She is a mother to four children - two on earth and two in Heaven. At 23 weeks she delivered Kinsey & Ryan, perfectly whole, but just too young to live. She was blessed further with two full term pregnancies thanks to a hearty cerclage. Her daughters, Kallie & Maryn, are the light in her darkest days. Melissa writes for her own blog, "Don't Hide Your Crazy," but is yet to share her words with the world. When she finally decides to take the advice of a good friend that "it's not a tattoo," she might reconsider. She loves to read, pretends to like exercise (she does not at all), and is an avid researcher of all the things. You can find Melissa on Facebook or LinkedIn...and *maybe* on "Don't Hide Your Crazy" when she gets brave enough.
Meet Our Bloggers
Our blog is inspired by the many diverse experiences that are common to parents of preemies. If you have a preemie or a baby who spent time in the NICU, a child with special needs or a loss – we want you to know that you are not alone. Join our supportive community and connect to parents who share similar experiences to your own, arm yourself with information to properly care for your child(ren) and your family, and find inspiration and hope when you need it most. Meet our bloggers.