Babies in the intensive care unit are given special quilts that have been lovingly made.

WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI – Seven years ago, Mike Becker retired as a clinical care specialist in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Mott Children’s Hospital. He joined the Kiwanis Club of Tecumseh and later found members of Kiwanis groups making quilts for the babies and families in the NICU units to provide warmth and comfort, as well as a souvenir to return home.

However, many members have had trouble cutting squares of fabric for the quilts because of the strain on their hands and wrists. At this point, Becker volunteered to help his wife Julie, as she had an automatic cutting machine at Eastern Michigan University that she could use to cut the fabric.

“They started bringing just a little bit of cloth and figured they could cut it up maybe in a couple of weeks and they cut it up like a day,” said Mike Becker. “She would give it back to them, and suddenly there was more material and more material.”

Julie Becker, an associate professor and interim director of the School of Technology and Professional Services Management at WWU, cut about 1,000 squares at 6½ by 6½ in just two passes on her high-speed single sheet, she said. In about five minutes, Julie Becker can cut about 600 squares of fabric, she said.

Becker also trains her students in handling the machine, which means that the math is integrated into the CAD (Computer Aided Design) system. It takes the longest to set up the machine and take the parts off, she said. Once the squares are cut, the squares go to the Kiwanis clubs in Tecumseh, Chelsea, and Saline, where members sew quilts for babies and families in the intensive care unit at Mott Children’s Hospital.

In the intensive care unit, the quilts are hung over the babies’ isolettes to provide security from bright light in the unit and a sound barrier from the machines, said Julie and Mike Becker. The quilts then go home with the families when they leave the hospital.

“It touches a lot of people, and I think it’s the community – it’s the service of giving back,” said Julie Becker. “I see a need and understanding because I am a quilter myself and I know how tedious it is to cut things and it takes a lot of pressure and there are a lot of problems with carpal tunnel and arthritis.”

Preemie Pals, a group of quilters across the state, has been making quilts for the ICU intensive care unit and the children in the cardiothoracic intensive care unit at Mott Children’s Hospital, as well as St. Joseph’s Hospital, Michigan Children’s Hospital, and Henry Ford Allegiance Hospital for a number of years in the Jackson and Ronald McDonald house of Ann Arbor. Cyndi Etsler, Preemie Pals coordinator, said two chief tailors needed time off, and Julie Becker came at just the right time.

“We have volunteers sew a full kit for us to make quilts, and people just pick them up at our local quilt shop, make the quilt, and give it back to us,” said Etsler. “Without Julie’s intervention and help, I’m not sure what we would have done.”

The quilts are well received by families in intensive care, said Lisa O’Leary, a clinical nurse. Although there has been some uncertainty about whether they would get new quilts during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is now an overabundance of family quilts in the unit, according to Mary Ellen Zinke, a parenting host at Mott’s NICU.

Both O’Leary and Zinke are grateful for having received all of the help and support from the community – from Julie Becker to the Kiwanis clubs to the Preemie Pals – in getting a small part of their home into intensive care.

“It certainly helps make parents feel more like a nursery in this room waiting to bring their babies home to their own nursery,” said O’Leary. “It’s not the typical ceiling you see in every other hospital, in every other kindergarten. It’s special, it’s unique and it’s just for that baby and it’s made with a lot of love. “

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