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When a critically ill or premature baby is in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), parents often miss out on crucial bonding due to prolonged separation. This time apart can also cause stress for infants in a highly medical environment. To help ease this separation, new NICU mothers are offered a Cuddle Heart to wear close to their bodies, which absorbs their scent; while the matching heart is placed with her baby. Swapping these hearts every couple of days provides comfort and a sense of connection during their time apart.  A baby’s scent can also help new mums with lactation when they express.

These precious gifts are made by Foundation volunteers like Henny, who told us, “It’s heart-warming to know that hopefully you are making it easier for women to leave their baby in the NICU by taking that new baby smell away with her.” 

Henny has been volunteering with the Foundation for nearly three years, but her association with Wellington Regional Hospital began in 1974 as a student nurse. Over the years, she took on various roles, from staff nurse in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to Flight Nurse, eventually becoming the Charge Nurse Manager for Patient Transfers. 

Henny’s inspiration to volunteer stemmed from her role as Charge Nurse Manager, where she frequently sought the Foundation’s assistance to fund much-needed medical equipment. One day, after delivering a selection of twiddlemuffs (knitted items that provide sensory stimulation and comfort to patients) to the ICU, she discovered that more volunteer knitters and sewers were needed.  Eager to give back to the Foundation that had supported her, and combining her passion for handcrafts, she found the perfect avenue in volunteering.

Henny began creating items for discharge packages for new mothers and their pēpē, adding a personal touch with her special knitted garments. Henny stumbled across the idea of Cuddle Hearts after learning about a grandmother in Christchurch making them for her local NICU, and she immediately fell in love with the idea!  When she approached the Foundation, she discovered they’d just been asked to explore the concept and she volunteered right away – creating templates and trialling hearts.

Hundreds of hearts later, this project is still going strong, with themed fabrics for Christmas and Easter adding a special touch.

Our grateful thanks to all our incredible volunteers. They make such a positive difference in the lives of patients and their families.

He aha te mea nui o te Ao?  He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. What is the most important thing in the world?  It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.