Saint Joseph Hospital NICU baby inspires children's book
Carmen Hart went into labor and delivered her daughter when she was just 27 weeks pregnant in July 2016. Born three months early, Penelope, or Penny as her family calls her, spent the first 101 days of her life in the NICU at Saint Joseph Hospital.
Carmen remembers the experience after Penny was born when Saint Joe’s literally became their home during that time. The cafeteria became her husband’s office and the Dazbog counter inside the hospital became their neighborhood coffee shop because they were there every single day. They ate almost all of their meals on the patio off the fourth floor near Penny’s room and they watched football games in the NICU parent lounge.
“We weren’t planning on having her at Saint Joe’s, but we’re so glad we did,” said Carmen. “The doctors, nurses and therapists did so much for Penny and our family and we are so thankful.” After more than three months of expert and compassionate care from the Saint Joseph Hospital NICU team and non-stop support from her family, Penny Hart went home.
“I’ll never forget the day we left the hospital because I was so overwhelmed with gratitude. The problem was that I didn’t know how to go around the NICU to say thank you for everything the staff did for us.”
So, Carmen took that immense gratitude, along with inspiration from her daughter, and wrote a children’s book called Penny and Her Butterfly that is dedicated to all the NICU staff who provide care to the tiniest and most fragile humans.
“The book was a way for me to say thank you in the best way that I could,” Carmen said. “It’s a tribute to all of the staff that took care of Penny, but it’s done in a very light, playful and fun way.”
The plot of the book is that when Penny's favorite butterfly picture goes missing, she heads out to search in the hospital and asks for help from the NICU team and her family.
The book features Penny’s caregivers including Neonatologists Dr. Annie, Dr. John, Dr. Ellina and Dr. Mark, along with her primary day nurse Krista, primary night nurse Angie and occupational therapist Shannon. In total, there are 15 characters, including Penny, her parents and 12 other members of the Saint Joe’s NICU team.
Carmen wrote the words and Mark Nino Balita, an illustrator from the Philippines, drew the pictures. The characters in the book are wonderfully illustrated as animals, and each page is a shout-out to the real-life team at Saint Joe’s. “We had a really tall nurse who is depicted as a giraffe. Another nurse had a long gray ponytail so she’s depicted as a gray horse.” Carmen credits Mark for really bringing the books to life.
SPOILER ALERT: Penny eventually finds the picture and after 101 days, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, she is able to fly home. This beautiful tribute to prematurity is about a little girl's fierce determination and the power of love from those around her.
Penny and Her Butterfly was five years in the making. Originally, Carmen set a goal of having it finished by Penny’s first birthday, but life got busy. The Hart family had another baby girl and Penny has grown into a healthy, happy and vibrant 5-year-old girl, who loves playing with her baby sister and is preparing to start kindergarten in the fall.
“This whole thing was a very unexpected situation, but looking back, it has turned into a very special time in our lives,” Carmen said. “Our family is forever grateful for the care we received at Saint Joe’s, and this book allowed us to capture that.”
Penny and Her Butterfly can be purchased on Amazon, and is also sold in the gift shop at Saint Joseph Hospital. Proceeds from the book will be donated to organizations that help NICU families. They include March of Dimes, which funds lifesaving research and programs to end premature birth, and the Saint Joseph Hospital Parent2Parent Support Group that helps families currently experiencing a NICU stay. Carmen is part of the Parent2Parent support group and remains friends with some of the staff who took care of her baby girl to this day.