Jackson Family Establishes NICU Endowed Family Support Fund

“She is a miracle. When she took her first breath, it was like music to my ears.” —Daryl Jackson
“She is a miracle. When she took her first breath, it was like music to my ears.”—Daryl Jackson

You might say Olivia Jackson is a “miracle baby.”

Her parents, Daryl and Gabrelle Jackson, certainly feel that way and are beyond grateful for the expert care their daughter received during her first few weeks of life at Connecticut Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Hartford.

“She is a miracle,” said Daryl, who vividly recalls the harrowing details of his daughter’s birth and the frightening aftermath in which they thought they had lost her, followed by an amazing recovery that surprised nearly everyone. “When she took her first breath, it was like music to my ears,” he said.

To underscore their appreciation, Daryl, who owns the West Harford Chick-fil-A restaurant, and Gabrelle recently donated $100,000 to the Medical Center to establish an endowed family support fund to help NICU families whose circumstances may be complicated by financial need. Their gift, matched dollar-for-dollar by an Endowed Fund Matching Gift Program – The Perfect Match – now underway at Connecticut Children’s, will double their impact.

“We felt so blessed,” Gabrelle said. “We just wanted to give back.”

Nightmares and Miracles

Today, Olivia is a healthy, thriving baby, who is full of energy and is meeting or exceeding all of her developmental milestones, but her entry into the world in March 2017 was frightening for her parents.

“On March 10th, my wife told me she didn’t feel the baby move much,” Daryl explained. “That was mid-day.” By evening, the baby was in distress and Gabrelle was undergoing an emergency C-section at Hartford Hospital.

“That’s when the nightmare began,” he said.

“After the baby was delivered, the doctors came in and sat me down and said, ‘Your wife is fine, but the prognosis is not good for your child’. To hear that was devastating. I went into the operating room to say goodbye to Olivia. I was a slobbering mess.”

Born two weeks early with a knot in her umbilical cord, Olivia was not breathing and had no discernible heartbeat for 16 minutes.

Daryl and Gabrelle Jackson established the first NICU Endowed Family Support Fund in appreciation of the care their daughter, Olivia, received, at Connecticut Children’s. The Jacksons are pictured here with Olivia’s neonatologist, Dr. Leslie Wolkoff, who was on call the night Olivia was born.
Daryl and Gabrelle Jackson established the first NICU Endowed Family Support Fund in appreciation of the care their daughter, Olivia, received, at Connecticut Children’s. The Jacksons are pictured here with Olivia’s neonatologist, Dr. Leslie Wolkoff, who was on call the night Olivia was born.

While the resuscitation team worked tirelessly to get a heartbeat, Leslie Wolkoff, MD, a Connecticut Children’s neonatologist who was on call that weekend, received an urgent phone call at home 12 minutes after Olivia was born. “While I was getting the story, James Gerace, just one of our super physician assistants and nurse practitioners working that night, said, ‘Wait a second (pause), we have a heart rate!’ I hung up the phone and came in emergently.”

“The resuscitation in the delivery room was truly excellent and not only saved Olivia’s life but also prevented her initial obvious brain injury from being permanent,” Dr. Wolkoff said. “The Induced Systemic Hypothermia protocol (in which the baby’s entire body, including the brain, is cooled, reducing brain metabolism) seems to have prevented or limited any secondary brain injury.”

“This was an entire group effort on the part of physicians, APRNs/PAs, nursing personnel and ancillary staff,” Dr. Wolkoff noted. “A tremendous amount of work and a fair amount of luck – and prayers – were needed to have such a good outcome.”

While Dr. Wolkoff concludes that Olivia may have had a very slow, very soft heartbeat that could not be heard above the noise of the resuscitation during those first 16 minutes, he believes her recovery is nothing short of miraculous.

“She was globally affected and almost comatose when I first saw her,” Dr. Wolkoff said. “I believe I described decerebrate posturing – evidence of severe brain injury resulting from the initial event. I was very concerned about her survival, much less neurologic recovery, and I told her parents that. By Monday morning, however, she was showing tremendous improvements in her neurologic exam and it was more obvious that she was, indeed, going to survive.”

An Outpouring of Support

For the Jacksons, an outpouring of prayers and support from family, friends, Chick-fil-A employees and complete strangers helped them stay strong as their daughter struggled to survive in her first few days of life. “The response on social media was amazing,” Daryl added. “We had people from Israel, Mexico and all over the globe praying for our little girl.”

While her situation remained dire, Olivia began to improve with every test. “Every day that passed, she was getting stronger and stronger,” Daryl said. And after two and a half weeks of care in the Hartford NICU, the Jacksons were finally able to take their daughter home.
“The day came to go home and it was a glorious day,” Daryl said.

“I am so grateful for the care our daughter received,” Gabrelle said. “I think the doctors and nurses were great; they really loved my baby.”

NICU Family Needs

Each year, nearly 1,000 premature or high-risk newborns, like Olivia, are admitted into Connecticut Children’s NICUs in Hartford and Farmington, including babies transferred from other hospitals across the region. Many of these premature or critically ill babies are born with breathing problems, infections or other potentially life-threatening conditions, or may have complex surgical needs.

All of these babies and their families face an incredibly emotional and difficult time as they struggle through the first days, weeks and even months of their lives. For some families, a financial struggle may ensue. Some families arrive in the NICU with little else but the clothes on their backs – no money for food or gas, no toiletries and no place to stay locally – just the indescribable parental worry that goes with having a very sick baby.

In some cases, parents may need to give up their jobs or take an extended leave of absence to be with their babies, some of whom require specialized neonatal care for several months. In addition to daily expenses, such as gas, parking and meals at the hospital, some families may have additional financial challenges and may need help paying a utility bill, making a rent payment or providing child care for their other children.

“We were able to stay with Olivia 24/7,” Daryl said, “but we saw other parents who would come in and were unable to stay for various reasons.”
“We saw a lot of parents who had to leave their babies,” Gabrelle said. “I remember one mother saying that she had to go back to work after visiting for two hours.”

“That’s why we wanted to give what we are giving,” Daryl said. “We wanted to try to lighten the load for others.”

First Fund of its Kind

James E. Moore, MD, PhD Division Head, Neonatology
James E. Moore, MD, PhD
Division Head, Neonatology

According to James Moore, MD, PhD, Neonatology Division Chief, the new NICU Endowed Family Support Fund established by the Jackson family is the first of its kind at Connecticut Children’s.

“It’s really the first fund to support NICU families at one of the most stressful times in their lives,” Dr. Moore said. “It will allow us to provide different kinds of needed support to families, particularly to those who come from some distance, or to those whose babies are so critically ill that they do not feel comfortable about leaving the hospital.”

“It will provide everything from meals and parking to more comfortable furnishings for the family rooms, as well as other family needs,” he said.
An endowment is also a gift that will keep on giving for generations to come. While the principal of the gift is invested, a fixed percentage of income from the Jackson’s matched gift totaling $200,000 will generate thousands of dollars each year to assist struggling NICU families whose first priority should be on their child – not on their finances.

To learn more about how your gift could be matched dollar for dollar in support of Connecticut Children’s please email Rob Keane or call 860-837-5714.

Learn more about our Neonatology services

To learn more about Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Foundation and how philanthropic support benefits patient care, please visit: connecticutchildrensfoundation.org!

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