HOUSTON (September 15, 2016)

For the first few months of her life, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital was the only home Hannah Fox knew. Born at just 23 ½ weeks gestation, Hannah, a surviving twin, struggled to breathe, eat and see. She required heart surgery and multiple laser eye surgeries, and her parents spent nearly every waking moment at her bedside.

Hannah Fox“It was quite an experience,” her mother, Rachel Fox, said. “Because we basically lived in the NICU for six and a half months, the staff there became like our family. For weeks, we lived through the daily struggles and challenges families face when their baby is too sick or frail to go home.”

Although she doesn’t remember the experience, Hannah, now 13, grew up hearing the stories about those tough early days and decided she wanted to do something to help other families like hers.

After spending months learning how to crochet, Hannah recently returned to the very same NICU to deliver dozens of handmade blankets and baby hats to the neonatal patients at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and their families. Each colorful blanket and cap is hand-stitched with the help of the family’s nanny who taught Hannah to crochet and comes with a personalized note from Hannah that reads:“The doctors and nurses here took excellent care of me and now I am a healthy 13-year-old. I wanted to give back and to encourage you and your little one in the NICU. So I crocheted blankets and hats for your babies. I hope you like them!”

Hannah’s return to the NICU, alongside her parents, sister and grandparents, was a surprise treat for the Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital staff, including several who provided treatment to Hannah more than a dozen years ago. She reconnected with Mariamma Mathew, the nurse who gave Hannah her first bath, as well as her neonatal perinatal medicine specialist, Dr. Amir Khan, who is now the medical director for the NICU. The team reminisced about Hannah’s treatment as they flipped through photos of her early days in the NICU.

“It’s such a joy for our staff when former patients return to say thank you,” said Nicole Francis, clinical director of neonatal services at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital who also cared for Hannah when she was a premature baby in the NICU. “Many of us grow attached and very fond of these babies when they are in our care, so it’s always incredibly rewarding for our nurses, doctors and NICU team to see the same children years later, all grown up and doing wonderfully.”

Hannah has thrived in the years since she was discharged from the hospital. Although she went home requiring oxygen and a feeding tube, Hannah overcame her health challenges to become an active and healthy seventh-grader. Despite some lingering complications, including a paralyzed vocal cord and limited vision in her right eye, Hannah plays volleyball for her school, rides and shows horses, and loves to read and crochet.“Hannah has become such an amazing, thoughtful and caring girl, and we are so pleased to come back to Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, where it all began, to thank the team for helping make this all possible,” her mother, Rachel, said. “We also hope that Hannah’s example provides a shining light of hope to other families struggling to cope with babies in the NICU.