A little gurgling bundle was cradled in the arms of Amelia Kowalisyn as she sat on the sofa in her Valparaiso home. Her husband, Joe, looked on with pride at his newborn son, Alex, and calmed their dog, Max, as he was excited to have and protect this new little human that just came into his home.
Joe and Amelia just traveled a rough road with little Alex. You see, he was a twin. He and his sister, Emma, were born about two months early. As babies have the most development in the last trimester during pregnancy, premature births can mean some time spent in a neonatal intensive care unit so that they can have the best chances for proper growth and health.
Alex and Emma were monitored at Porter Regional Hospital's NICU, but Emma had a rare stroke before her birth which required she be quickly moved to Riley's Children's Hospital in Indianapolis. Joe and Amelia spent the next agonizing weeks driving back and forth from Riley's to Porter, the health and safety of their twins being the only thing on their minds.
In situations like these, new parents can feel overwhelmed and alone. The couple hadn't planned on the first weeks of parenthood to be spent in multiple hospitals. But like a warm blanket on a cold night, friends, family, and strangers covered them and their babies with much needed love and support.
"It was amazing. We would be traveling all the time from one hospital to the other and the nurses at Riley would let us do FaceTime with Emma while we were with Alex," Amelia said.
With help like this, Joe and Amelia were able be with Emma in her last moments. She passed away on November 5, three weeks after she was born. The heartache that occurred cannot be described and the love that was felt for this little girl during her short time in this world cannot be matched. But Joe and Amelia reached deep and found a remarkable strength that enabled them to carry on and carry the memory of Emma in their hearts.
"When we were at Riley's we'd get care packages from these groups around the area and from our friends," Amelia said. "We were so touched that we thought that it would be nice if we could pay that forward to other families."
On top of the care packages that the Kowalisyns received, people brought meals over to them week after week, neighbors watched Max, kind words and prayers flooded their social media pages, and more. People that they hadn't seen in years sent them messages and came to Emma's wake to show support. Amelia's sorority, Alpha Xi Delta, even took it upon themselves to make a donation to the Riley NICU in Emma's name.
"People were ready and willing to reach out to us in any way that they could," Joe said. "The amount of support and love that we received was overwhelming. If it wasn't for that support, I don't know what we would have done."
Joe and Amelia began to build care packages that would be distributed to new parents who had babies in the NICU at Porter Regional Hospital. They began by asking people who attended Emma's wake to bring donations; things that are everyday necessities but are the last things that new parents think about.
"Porter is maybe 15 minutes from our house but we never came home," Joe said.
"When you have a child in the NICU you are basically living there," Amelia said. "And you don't want to leave because you don't want to miss anything...at Riley's we got these packages and they were so helpful, filled with things that you need but don't think to grab because you have other things on your mind. "
Items like granola bars, tooth brushes, blankets, hand sanitizer, bottled water, and other everyday necessities are what one can find in the care packages. A tag adorns each one that reads, "There is no footprint so small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world."
If you want to donate items for the care packages, contact Amelia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We've had all kinds of people donating things. Family, friends, businesses," Amelia said. "Every bit helps."
The couple is looking to do more with the care packages with the possible implementation of a foundation in the future so that more new parents can experience the love and support that Amy and Joe had.
"Emma may not be with us physically but she is still touching lives," Joe said.
Photos courtesy of Purple Peony Photography by Miranda Wilkening.