By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News
Families with premature babies in the hospital need not look further than a London-based charitable organization for financial and emotional support. Itsy, which was created in 2008, supports the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at London’s Children’s Hospital.
With money raised at the organization’s annual fundraiser and from private and corporate donations, Itsy helps cover costs associated with things like gas, groceries and hospital parking, while offering the chance to fall into a support network of people who have been there and done that. This year’s event is being held on Dec. 2 at the Delta London Armouries.
Those are the kinds of supports that Laurel Lunnen said she and her husband, Mat, wished they had when their little girl, Story, was born in 2008.
Weighing in at one pound, 12 ounces, Story was born four months early. This was something that Laurel said she and her husband were in no way prepared for.
“Nothing was ready, but that was the least of our worries,” Lunnen said, adding the doctors told her Story had a 70 per cent chance of survival, probably less.
“I think it was just really hard to wrap our mind around the fact that we were going to have this baby and I didn’t even look pregnant,” she said. “To try and digest the fact that we’re going to have a baby that day was just really unreal and scary.”
That wasn’t the end of the Lunnen family’s worries though — Story then had to go in for surgery to fix a valve in her heart.
“To have this little one pound baby, put her on anesthetic and go through heart surgery,” Lunnen said. “It was awful because you’re rooting for this baby, but you know without heart surgery she wouldn’t survive, but with the heart surgery, there was a chance that something could go wrong because you’re putting a one-pound baby under and then the healing that comes after.”
Story was in the hospital for four months after she was born. Lunnen said that made her realize how hard it is for families who have premature babies.
“We were really struggling, not just financially, but mentally and emotionally,” she said. “Once we got home and life started to go back to some semblance of normalcy, we kind of really felt for these families that were really struggling while they had these babies in the hospital.”
Thus Itsy was born. Lunnen said she and her husband thought there was hole where a niche program to help families with premature babies could fit.
While today the program boasts $40,000 in money raised, third party sponsors and more than 140 people are expected to attend the Dec. 2 fundraising event, it had a humble beginning.
In its first year (2008), there were only 10 volunteers and friends of the Lunnen family that helped design a logo and poster, and pull together an “itsy” event that raised $3,500.
“We thought we received so much support from the local community, the media, we thought we could do way bigger and way better,” Lunnen said. “Then we started having our annual larger event, we sell tickets and raise a lot more money every year.
“We’re not raising money for big hospitals or greater causes, it’s really kind of a niche market, which is really to help families while they’re going through this.”
The organization has also come full circle in a pay it forward sense — Itsy recently received a $500 donation from the first family it helped.
“What’s really amazing is a lot of these people will come back,” Lunnen said, adding there are around 700 premature babies born each year in London. “We hear that a lot from families, saying, ‘This is amazing, we’re going to pay it forward some day,’ and they do, which is so cool because then we can help more families.”
For more information on Itsy or its fundraising event, check out the organization’s website at www.itsy.ca.