Mothers with sick infants get help Support group founder honored with reward, grant

May 02, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

When Nancy Carter was pregnant with her first child tw years ago, she had the same expectations as most women -- a healthy, happy baby. But Brendan arrived seven weeks early at 3 pounds, 2 ounces and spent his first month in intensive care.

Once home, Brendan was still so small that he ate every two hours, day and night. Nothing had prepared Mrs. Carter for the stress and uncertainty.

"I always assumed I would have a Gerber baby," Mrs. Carter, of Glenelg, said. "When I first had him, he looked more like a little old man."

In August 1991, Mrs. Carter formed a support group at Howard County General Hospital for parents of premature and handicapped babies as well as others that require intensive care. Last month, she won a $1,000 award from the J. C. Penney Co. and received the first installment of a $1,000 grant from the March of Dimes. The organizations gave the money to help and honor Mrs. Carter's volunteer group.

The organization is called A Special Star Parent Group. It has 50 active members, all of whom have had children that required intensive care or stayed in a special care nursery. The purpose is to provide emotional support and encouragement for parents as they cope with burden of caring for a sick infant.

Dr. Tuvia Blechman, who runs Howard General's 13-bassinet special care nursery, refers parents to Mrs. Carter and other volunteers for informal counseling, which mostly involves asking questions and listening over the phone.

The group holds biweekly meetings for parents with hospitalized babies and bimonthly ones for those caring for their children at home. The group also maintains a child care library at the hospital, distributes a quarterly newsletter and holds an annual picnic.

This summer the group will take one more step toward institutionalization when it sponsors its first charity invitational golf tournament in Frederick.

It all began because Nancy Carter and her husband, Mark, felt alone.

When Brendan was born, some of their friends and relatives did not send congratulatory cards, because they thought the baby would die. At home, Brendan was so vulnerable that Mrs. Carter couldn't leave the house with him. Just walking outside to get the mail was cause for celebration, she said.

Perhaps hardest of all, the couple had no one with whom they could compare notes.

"I didn't know anyone who had had a preemie," Mrs. Carter said. "I would have loved to have found someone and asked them what did you do in this situation. I don't know why, but I felt I had to make this better for some other people."

Brendan is doing well now. He is a healthy, 2-year-old who spends his days sliding, swinging and climbing on a new play set in the family's backyard.

"Mainly, we just kind of muddled through," Mrs. Carter recalls. "If you were ever to meet us on the street, you'd never know he was 3 pounds, 2 ounces."

Those who have come to know Nancy Carter have been taken with her initiative and her youth. She is 28 years old.

"Have you met her?" asked Bill Ceglia, who chaired the J. C. Penney award committee. He had expected a woman in her late 30s.

"I was amazed," he said.

Mrs. Carter sees herself differently.

"I've always been a follower," she says. "I really am."

However, it turns out that the parent group is not her first leadership role. While a student at Western Maryland College in Westminster, she was captain of field hockey, basketball and lacrosse teams.

"I was captain of all those teams, but that was about it," she says.

Support groups for parents of premature babies are not new. Many hospitals try them, but often have trouble keeping them going.

"I think a lot of times it doesn't work," said Dr. Blechman. "First of all, because they don't have a Nancy Carter."

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