Delivering Basic Necessities and Hope to NICU Families
It’s still difficult for Robin Wahrenbrock to talk about her twins’ birthday without tearing up. The Lee’s Summit resident remembers doc tors coming into her dark hospital room when they thought the babies might arrive at 22 weeks and talking to her about statistics, trying to be comforting, but not offering much hope. When the babies did arrive via emergency C-section at 24 weeks, Robin remembers them being purple and fuzzy-skinned with eyes sealed shut and tubes attached all over their bodies to life-sustaining machinery.
“It was really strange—all the things you imagine for pregnancy and birth—it was frightening to see them even though you want to so badly,” Robin says.
Birth was just the beginning of the Wahrenbrock micropreemies’ fight for life. Thankfully, Circe Wahrenbrock was released after a 90-day stay at the Saint Luke’s on the Plaza neonatal intensive care unit. Van Wahrenbrock was released after a rollercoaster ride of 213 days in the NICU. Due to the emotional turmoil of their experience, Robin says she and other moms who’ve had NICU babies are now able to relate to families currently at this stage of life. Robin is now a volunteer and board member with Little Warrior Princesses, a nonprofit organization that provides NICU families with transportation and food assistance during their children’s sometimes extended stay at the hospital.
The organization was founded by Cassandra and Brandon Dickerson of Olathe, whose twins, Ava and Olivia, were born at 26 weeks and were on micropreemie row at Saint Luke’s during the same time as the Wahrenbrocks.
“No parent expects his or her child to be born early, and almost immediately, the family begins incurring lots of unexpected, unbudgeted expenses,” Cassandra says. “It’s heartbreaking for me to think of parents worrying about basic necessities at a time when they are worried about whether or not their child is going to live or die.”
While NICU families can receive assistance from the Ronald McDonald house, there is limited space, and many families aren’t able to stay close to the hospital the entire time their baby is hospitalized. Cassandra, Robin and other Little Warrior Princess volunteers visit the 16 Kansas City metro-area NICUs monthly to provide food and gas gift cards and a listening ear if parents want a safe place to share their emotions.
“Many times, I hand them the gift cards and offer a simple ‘How are you doing? I’ve been there if you need to talk,’” Robin says. “So much of it is focused on the baby; sometimes parents need a little check-in as well.”
As they listen and talk, the organization’s volunteers deliver much more than monetary help for tangible needs.
“I’m able to not only tell them about my experience but to give them incredible hope,” Cassandra says. “[Micropreemies] are the babies that sometimes don’t make it, and mine are 5 today, and they’re doing well. They’re a little sugar and a little spice. Your circumstance now may look bad, but it can turn out very good.”
Today, Robin and her husband, Todd, celebrate the twins’ ‘coming home days’ as well as their birthday. The twins are developmentally caught up with other kindergarteners, and while there are some lasting effects of premature birth, Robin says it feels more like normal kids’ stuff now.
“Nobody at school would know that Van had any of this stuff done,” she says. “He looks like a normal kindergartener with a few scars.”
Since the Dickersons founded Little Warrior Princesses in 2013, the nonprofit organization has donated more than $8,000 in food and gas gift cards to families. The nonprofit relies on two family-centered fundraisers each year, a fall Storybook Gala and a spring Royal Ball. To learn more about the organization or to donate to help a NICU family in need, visit LittleWarriorPrincesses.com.