Local restaurants, including Nékter and Davenport’s Daily Delights, provided meals and treats for parents of children in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Tampa General Hospital while they stayed with their babies.

By Gwen Rolling

When parents are preparing for the birth of their child, people often say with knowing smiles, “Your life will never be the same again.” After COVID19, many people shake their heads and say, “Life as we knew it will never be the same again.”

These prophesies have proven especially meaningful to many new parents in extraordinary ways since the second week of March at Tampa General Hospital’s Jennifer Leigh Muma 82-bed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Tampa General (TGH) is one of just 12 Regional Perinatal Intensive Care Centers designated by the state of Florida to deliver the highest level of medical care to critically ill newborns premature and sick infants and to women with high-risk pregnancies.

Before March, both parents were welcome to visit their infants 24 hours a day. COVID-19 necessitated changes in the visiting policies in the NICU, but TGH’s highly-trained team of professionals found innovative ways to make the best of a challenging situation.

Brenda Bugbee, NICU manager, explained the changes, “Each baby was allowed one family member, usually the mother, to stay. Others could see the baby on the NicView camera, providing access 24 hours a day.”

This innovative small camera system is placed at designated bed spaces and allows parents, family and friends to view their infant in real-time and helps families develop that bond with their preemie or hospitalized infant even when they can’t be in the NICU with them.

Parents were not allowed to leave the unit to eliminate their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the public areas of the hospital. Team members such as Angie Mangiapane, Lauren Mishos and Laurie Marino reached out via social media and Facebook seeking variety for parents’ hospital meals.

The response was great from Greater Brandon and Tampa restaurants, including Jai Ho Indian Cuisine, Nékter, Davenport’s Daily Delights, D’Angelo’s, Culver’s, Shells Seafood, Wright’s Gourmet, Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s, Entenmann’s bakery, Caspers McDonald’s and Jack and Jill of America donated cookies from Alessi Bakery.

Meals were often provided for NICU team members as well. Gofer Girl Scout Troop donated snack bags, cards and activity books.

In the midst of all the changes our nation has recently endured due to the pandemic, the staff of TGH’s Jennifer Leigh Muma NICU proved the spirit of charity remains unchanged, alive and well.