The Drive for Level III

 Two guests enjoy the afternoon party in support of the NICU

My husband and I are both Chartered Accountants and feel so fortunate in our own lives that we want to give back to our community. Our chosen cause is the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Windsor Regional Hospital, because of the amazing care they provided our son, Christopher, when he was born eight weeks early.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is part of the Family Birthing Centre of Windsor Regional Hospital, which services Windsor and the surrounding areas. It cares for newborns with selected high-risk problems, who require a high degree of monitoring and observation. The Unit also provides transport of critically ill newborns to and from other specialised care centres. Unfortunately the NICU does not always have the space or ability to care for all premature babies (“preemies”) that are born in Windsor and Essex County. In this case, families are sent to a tertiary centre hospital, often Detroit or Toronto, but sometimes as far away as Ottawa. Having a baby is stressful enough without having to be away from home as well. Imagine the stress on a young family, probably already under financial pressure, of having to miss work and pay for accommodation, so they can be with their sick child.

When our son Christopher was born six years ago, we were still living in Toronto, but were visiting my parents in Windsor (we moved to Windsor in 2007). My father was in bed at home with terminal cancer. During the visit I developed severe complications with the pregnancy and was lucky to be put under the care of Dr. William Mundle, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Windsor Regional Hospital. In the event, Christopher was born eight weeks early and weighed only 3lbs 12oz. From the beginning, the doctors and staff in the NICU were extremely supportive and took the time to explain to us exactly what was happening with Christopher. Christopher spent five weeks in the NICU and the staff were professional and loving toward our little miracle. They were especially supportive when my father passed away ten days after Christopher was born. On the days that we couldn’t be with Christopher as much as we wanted to, we were able to call in and speak to his nurse for an update on his condition. Some days we called ten times!

Windsor is the sort of town where it is almost expected that those with professional skills will use them to give back to the community. When we learned that the NICU was trying to raise money to become designated a full Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, we decided we had to help. The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care originally provided funding for 14 isolettes. Lobbying efforts helped bring extra funding for an additional 6 isolettes in 2009, and more work is still underway to have the Centre designated as a full Level III Neonatal Intensive care unit. Upgrading the NICU to a full Level III facility would increase the number of isolettes to 24, and allow the unit to care for infants with more complex health care needs. The NICU currently has three neonatologists providing care, so has the clinical expertise, but the hospital is raising the capital funds to buy the equipment, and operating funds to service an expanded unit, to support the drive to full Level III certification. The additional equipment needed to support a full Level III certification will cost approximately $2 million. To date roughly $200,000 has been raised.

In June my husband and I hosted a fundraiser at our home, to raise money for the “Drive for Level III” campaign. When I first approached the hospital with the initiative, I had many ideas in my head but didn’t know exactly how I was going to raise the money. After some research and thinking, I decided that I didn’t want to host an event somewhere that I had to pay for, because I wanted to keep the costs of the event under control. I must admit that I did not fully anticipate how much work would be involved with hosting something at my home. Fortunately, I had a lot of support from the staff in the Foundation office at the hospital. My husband still smiles about all the little projects that suddenly reached the top of – or were added to - his “to do” list because we were inviting so many people into our home. We also had an unexpected hitch with the post-card-sized invitations – after they were mailed out, we realized that many people were mistaking them for junk mail, and pitching them without reading them. Many phone calls were made to follow up on the first invitation.

We planned a garden party with hors d’oeuvres, wine, live entertainment and a silent auction. We tidied up our house

and garden, installed a fountain in the pool (donated for the silent auction), mowed a croquet pitch into our lawn, and hoped for good weather. Unfortunately, on the day of the event, a Tornado warning was issued for Windsor, and there were several downpours throughout the afternoon. About 150 people were invited and 110 planned to attend, but given the weather, we ended up with approximately 80 people. The guests made the most of the event, running from one umbrella and tent to another, and retreating to the house when the heavens opened. Our entertainment included a wandering magician, a harpist (who was a thoracic surgeon in his day job) and a singer who also played guitar.

Our guests were extremely generous. We suggested a donation of $75 for attendance and many guests made larger donations, and also bid heartily on the silent auction. I was so pleasantly surprised at the response when I told people about the event. Local companies were also very supportive - I even received gifts for the silent auction from businesses I had not contacted, because they had heard about the event from friends and family. Despite the weather we raised $7,000 for the NICU. It is only a drop in the bucket towards the overall target, but every little amount helps. Being accountants, my husband and I would have liked to have raised more, but given the weather and other challenges, we were happy with the result of our first fundraiser. We do plan to do another fundraiser in the future but with two small children at home we think we’ll wait a year or so to recover. It was like planning a wedding.

Allison Hawkins
WRH Foundatiion Board Member