A seed of hope: Family’s nonprofit grows from daughter’s time in NICU
In a fluffy hat, sparkly top and cowboy boots, all pink, Eberley Morrow pranced around the plush armchairs at Rocky Mountain Roastery in Granby. The 2-year-old was a little shy but on a mission to sit in every chair in the café.
“It’s a battle we’re having right now,” said Eberley’s mom, Lindsey Morrow, of the pink cowboy boots. “They’re the only shoes that she’ll wear.”
Eberley is a healthy, curious and stubborn girl like most toddlers. Clomping around in her cowboy boots, her adventurous attitude probably comes from being cooped up in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit for the first month of her life, her dad said.
Born in Denver to parents Lindsey and Rich Morrow of Grand County, Eberley arrived on Dec. 29, 2017. While a C-section was necessary, Eberley had looked perfectly fine in ultrasounds and was carried to full term without any other problems.
Minutes after she was born, there were complications.
“One of the nurses in the delivery room said, ‘Something’s not right here,’” Lindsey recalled.
The newborn Eberley was taken to the NICU and the family was soon transferred to the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children for specialized care.
Eberley was born with a condition in which her esophagus never formed completely. As she developed, it turned and attached to her trachea, meaning she couldn’t swallow or eat. She would need immediate surgery to attach her esophagus to her stomach, and that was just the beginning of the family’s trials.
When Eberley was four days old, her body wasn’t processing fluids. The baby’s creatinine levels, which indicate kidney function, were far too high. It was at this time Eberley’s life was at its most fragile.
“We didn’t know if she was going to make it at one point,” Lindsey said. “She had six hours and (doctors) said if she doesn’t make it within six hours, you’re not going home with her.”
Their daughter was on life support for 12 days, in the NICU for 40 days and on a feeding tube for eight months. As the family tried their best to deal with what would become a year of strenuous treatments, pressing medical bills and stress, they found a seed of hope.
On New Year’s Day, they received some small items in a basket that made a big difference, things like a baby blanket, stuffed animal, book, toothpaste and a notebook.
“No families are ever prepared to spend time in the NICU,” Lindsey said. “We had a full term pregnancy, no issues and then found out. This family did a care bag and it touched both of us so much.”
A small gesture
In the NICU, there is a huge and necessary precaution around germs. When you walk into the unit the first thing you have to do is wash your hands, and not just a normal scrub. You wash your hands for 60 seconds with special soap as a nurse watches you.
Then you go to the intended room. The rule is “foam in, foam out.” You sanitize your hands on the way in, you don’t touch anything and you sanitize them on the way out. Every time you touch something, you must sanitize your hands. Lindsey and Rich did this for 40 days.
“By the end of the day, your hands are just raw,” Lindsey said.
For the first 48 hours of Eberley’s life, her parents didn’t sleep. Rich described the relief of the gifted notebook that allowed them to write down notes just to keep sane.
“Sometimes it feels like you hit rock bottom,” Rich added. “You’re fighting for your kid and you don’t know the outcome of it.”
As they realized what a difference this small gesture made for them and the other little things — like a good hand lotion — that would have helped during such a stressful time, an idea started to bloom.
As Eberley approached her first birthday, overcoming her health challenges, the family wanted to give back. The Acorn Project was born.
The Acorn Project’s logo is an oak tree springing from an acorn with 40 leaves — one for each day Eberley spent in intensive care. The tree and its branches frame the project’s motto: “Just one seed of hope grows strength.”
One year after Eberley was released from the NICU, the family delivered care bags to 60 families in the unit at the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children. The bags were filled with books, blankets, notebooks, hand lotion, hand sanitizer and other little things the family hoped would help others to find some joy and hope.
The family did it again Sunday with the delivery of another 72 care bags. When they could, Lindsey visited with the families.
“As a family in the NICU, it becomes a sense of one,” Lindsey said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in there for a week or if you’re in there for a year. You’re experiencing something you can never prepare for. This is just a little way, even if it’s for just a minute, to give people a little sense of hope. That’s what our goal was.”
The Morrows were quick to say the care bags came together thanks in large part to the Grand County community. The list of those who helped by donating items or time include, but is not limited to, the General Store at Winter Park, The Fabric Nook and Girl Scout Troop 56337. The couple has a long list of individuals to thank for helping make the Acorn Project a reality.
“We don’t need the recognition. We do this from our hearts,” Lindsey said. “But we had so many businesses help this year, and families, we want them to see and to show our appreciation.”
The family is also grateful for the people who kept them afloat during Eberley’s time in the hospital, including a fundraiser at the Crooked Creek Trap Club that helped immensely with medical bills.
“Sometimes this community can drive you nuts a little bit,” Rich said. “But when something does happen, all the sudden this community can get super tight and help people.”
Lindsey and Rich both want to return the favor for families with babies facing severe complications. They have begun working with the hospital to serve as advocates for children with Eberley’s condition and have visited with families from across Colorado.
While their daughter’s surgery connected her esophagus to her stomach, some babies are born with an esophagus too short to connect right away. The complication can also come in conjunction with a myriad of other birth defects, which was not the case for Eberley.
“There are so many families that are in harder situations or are worse off,” Lindsey said. “We’re so fortunate because it’s nothing compared to what some families go through.”
Dr. Kristin Shipman was the pediatric surgeon who performed Eberley’s surgery. In her position, Shipman often sees families facing the challenges like the Morrows have.
“I think her family is incredibly resilient,” Shipman said.
Through the surgeon’s interactions with the family, she saw the caring nature that led to the Acorn Project.
“It doesn’t surprise me that this is their thing,” Shipman said. “I thought they were great to work with, so compassionate and very kind.”
Of course, the family would rather the praise go to the community that has continued to support them. They’ve also provided breakfasts for the nurses at the hospital.
“We don’t want the publicity, but so many people have helped that we just want to say thank you,” Lindsey emphasized.
The family plans to continue the care bags annually and they accept donations, whether it’s one book or a collection of toys, year round. The best way to make donations is to reach out through the project’s Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/TheAcornProject/.
Eberley hasn’t seen any other health complications, though she still has regular checkups. It’s another thing for which her parents are forever grateful.
Running around in those pink cowboy boots, Eberley shines as a miracle baby who has grown into a happy, healthy and endlessly curious toddler.