Journey beads mark milestones for preemies at Einstein Montgomery

EAST NORRITON, Pa. (WPVI) -- With advances in medicine, the odds are much better that a baby born early will survive. But that doesn't make it easier for parents who worry every day.

A new, colorful program gives them a way to take things 'one bead at a time,' and chart their baby's progress.

Charlie Kelly may look tiny now, but he was half his weight when he was born in mid-December - 11 weeks early.

Mom Ellen Kelly says those first days were surreal.

"You get pregnant, and what you visualize to see, and it doesn't happen, it's alarming," said Kelly.

Melissa Hewitt is a nurse manager at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery's neonatal intensive care unit. She knows that feeling first-hand.

Both of her children started life in the NICU.

"My daughter was 1 pound, 18 years ago. The survival rate for 1-pound babies was pretty grim," said Hewitt. "My son was 67 days."

Today, both are healthy, happy teenagers.

Still, she can't forget the anxious times.

"Every day ran into the next day," said Hewitt.

While browsing Facebook, Hewitt spotted something to help NICU parents like Kelly know just how far their little ones have come.

Glass journey beads mark events that may be ordinary for most babies, but are real milestones for preemies.

"The pink is pig, for when we fed him his first meal. This blue one is bubbles, when mom and dad gave him his first bubble bath," said Kelly.

The beads are given to parents of babies who are 32 weeks or less gestation when they're born - or to medically fragile babies.

One by one, the string of charms grows as the infants do, too.

"Parents get really excited when they earn a bead," said Kelly.

Charlie "graduated" from the NICU and Einstein with all 20 beads, which Ellen now proudly wears as a necklace.

"It's nice to have something tangible to see all the moments we had together," said Kelly.

Read lots of other great NICU baby stories here.
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