ANDERSON — Liz Frank still has the fuzzy little pink stuffed bear she made for her great-niece. She carried it in her purse for a long time. It hasn’t been washed since infant Charlotte Gracelyn Halter wrapped her tiny hand on it in 2007.
Little Charlie, born two months premature with unexpected heart problems, was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. With her mom, Samantha, recuperating from the caesarian section in South Bend, great-aunt Frank stepped in to be there with Charlie in the NICU. After watching little Charlie clutching the tubes and leads in her sterile environment, Frank made the little bear to help soothe the infant with a soft, fuzzy touch.
“She just wanted her to have something to cuddle,” said Frank’s friend, Patricia Toombs. As wonderful as the care in the unit may be, however, stuffed animals pose a problem, and staff took the little bear away.
“They put all the stuffed animals in plastic bags," said Frank. "They can’t wash them, can’t sanitize them.”
Paula Miller, Charlie's primary nurse when she was first admitted, explained, "Our patients are too fragile to be exposed to germs that can be harbored in stuffed animals."
After nurses removed the bear, Frank asked what she could do. She was told the infants could only have blankets.
“I asked, 'Can they have a blanket in the shape of a bear?'” said Frank. In the end, Frank created a little unstuffed, washable fleece bear, not quite as big as an adult’s hand. The idea was to give a soft cuddle in the midst of the hospital environment.
“It’s like being on a different planet. You just want them to have something fun,” said Frank. “Everything is so heartbreaking the rest of the time.”