Not Just Babies – Parents Are Premature Too!

Written by Melissa R. Johnson, PhD

The world of the newborn intensive care unit is a hidden world, a place of both daily miracles and heartbreak. In the past several decades, advances in both medical and developmental care have led to major improvements in survival and long-term outcomes for babies born as early as 23 weeks. But for most people who are excited to discover that they are pregnant, what goes on in the NICU is a mystery that they would just as soon not think about.

For the majority of parents, the birth of a premie or a sick baby comes as a real shock. Sometimes there are a few days or even weeks of warning, if mom is experiencing complications or signs of early labor, though these complications themselves are often very stressful. In other cases, the first indicator that a baby is coming early is a sudden onset of labor months before the due date, or even the precipitous delivery of the baby at home or in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. All of these circumstances catapult the young family from anticipating a normal birth in a number of months, to an encounter with a tiny infant (or infants in the case of multiple birth)surrounded by technology in an overwhelming, complex setting.

Typically, parents feel as though their baby’s life is in the hands of others, and though these doctors, nurses and therapists are typically warm and caring, they are also total strangers. In my thirty years of working in a NICU as a developmental specialist and psychologist supporting families, I was always amazed by the courage, resilience, and love shown by families who often had no idea a few days earlier that their lives would be turned upside down. NICU staff members over the years have come to appreciate more and more deeply how critical parents are to the medical and developmental recovery of the baby, and how important emotional support of the parent is to facilitate the parents’ success in functioning effectively in the NICU and after discharge.

While the relationships among parents and the doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, chaplains, medical secretaries, and all the other professionals in the unit are critical, there are many other ways that parents need support. The more parents can remain by the bedside, the more they can understand and advocate for their baby’s needs. Every hour spent holding a premature infant skin to skin (“kangaroo care”) benefits the baby’s developing body and brain.

But virtually every family faces unexpected obstacles. Practical issues such as parking costs, fuel expenses, food while visiting, child care for siblings, clothing for a tiny infant who will outgrow outfits rapidly, and life expenses when maternity and paternity leaves are not available or inadequate, add to the stress and sadness that families experience. Assistance with such needs are much more then optional extras – they can be critical to a young family taking their baby home feeling capable of facing the future.

I’ll never forget giving some parents gas cards made available through donations to our hospital, during one of many gas crisis periods when costs were especially high, and having both mothers and fathers start to cry tears of gratitude for what was basically one tank of gas to come visit their child. The work of organizations such as Me Fine, addressing the social and practical support needs of families whose children are in medical crisis, is critical in so many ways. It can truly make a difference in the long-term outcome of children and their parents as they find the strength to recover, grow, and develop together.

Me Fine Foundation Gala Recap




We are proud to announce that the 2017 Me Fine Gala, held at City Club of Raleigh on September 23rd, raised over $210,000 for the children and families we serve. The Gala, presented by Centrifuge Media, celebrated Me Fine’s accomplishments over the last year and served as a thank you to the amazing team of donors, allies and advocates who helped in that success. The many local businesses that sponsored the event ensured a magical evening for all in attendance. The Gala is the nonprofit’s annual signature fundraiser, raising funds to help provide financial assistance and emotional support programs to parents and caregivers whose children are receiving critical medical treatment from Duke and UNC Children’s Hospitals.

The “Hero for Life” Award is the Me Fine Foundation’s highest honor, recognizes those who go above and beyond to help critically ill kids and families, specifically with respect to Me Fine’s mission. It is presented annually at the Me Fine Gala. This year’s recipient, Jordan Wright, is a two-time cancer survivor and longtime foundation ally who donates his time and talents as a professional photographer to the foundation.

“Once again, the community has shown us just how much they care and we’re incredibly thankful, “ said Joey Powell, Executive Director of the Me Fine Foundation. “Our sponsors and supporters ensure that we have an enormous impact on the children and families we serve.”

If you’d like to be involved with next year’s Gala, or for more information about Me Fine, please call (919) 202-0086 or visit‬



Photos are available HERE: 


NEW: Teen Resource Cart at Duke Children’s Hospital

A massive thank you to the AJ Fletcher Foundation for helping build out the Teen Resource Cart at Duke Children’s Hospital! The cart carries fun supplies for teenagers receiving treatment to ensure that they have access to engaging material. The cart includes items such as books, movies, games, coloring books and art projects.

Neat, right? Read what some of the teens and staff have to say about it: 

“The gel pens and adult coloring from the teen cart helped me relax and pass the time.”    -Lea, age 18

“It is great for our teens to have a special space to choose activities that appeal to their age.” – Katelin, CCLS, Child Life Specialist, Duke Children’s  5300 Unit

“The teen cart is an awesome way for our teen patients to make choices when many things are out of their control.”   – Jess, RN, Duke Children’s 5100 Unit

“We are fortunate to have teen carts that we can utilize for teen patients on adult units.  These units often have fewer resources to normalize the environment so the rolling teen carts provide comfort to these patients.”  – Susan, Child Life Specialist, Duke Children’s (Hospital School Coordinator)

Stories like these allow us to show our community the impact that their donations can have. We aim to have a real and tangible impact on the lives of children receiving care and their families. Interested in speaking with someone to contribute? Visit our website to learn more and get in touch. 

Under One Month To Go: Get Your Tickets For The Annual Gala





Raleigh, N.C. (August 21, 2017)-The 2017 Me Fine Foundation Gala presented by Centrifuge Media will be held on Saturday, September 23rd at City Club Raleigh downtown. The gala will be a night of celebration with food and drink, a live and silent auction, and music performed by local favorite Crush. Proceeds from the gala will benefit families facing medical crises while being treated at Duke and UNC Children’s Hospitals.

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Recap: Upcoming Local Gala and Christmas In July Images




As you know, we recently completed our Christmas in July campaign at UNC Children’s hospital. We want to thank each and every one of our supports for the kind words, thoughts as well as the gifts that we distributed. The children all had smiles on their faces, which was very rewarding to see! Here are some images for you to see how the day played out as well as information about our upcoming local gala.  Continue reading

Christmas in July 2017!

On July 20th and 27th, the Me Fine Foundation will once again spread some cheer to kids who really need it. Thanks to the thousands of dollars and hundreds of toys donated by our supporters, we were once again will bring Christmas in July to the children at Duke and UNC Children’s hospitals. Led by the one and only Santa Claus, volunteers will distribute toys to the sickest children in the hospitals. Christmas in July is important in that it fills a recreation and activity gap in the summer when so many volunteers, staff, and students are away. Continue reading

Get Your Daily Dose of Cheer

“Love can change the world in a moment”

A lot of families either start or end their day by tuning in to the news to get a pulse on current events around the globe. Most news channels will report the atrocities – whether that be violence, famine or terror. Once in a while, that bad will be interspersed with hopeful, inspiring stories. Personally, I choose to focus on those. Stories that promote, peace, happiness and support. It also happens that celebrities, most commonly music artists, are seen supporting these messages. One such story was in relation to Red Nose Day, in March 2017.  Continue reading

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