‘Every day is a gift’
The tiniest NICU babies dress up for Halloween.
Cheeseburger and fries.
A sweet strawberry.
Mermaids, superheroes and butterflies.
It’s the time of year when kiddos of all ages don their favorite costumes, including the littlest patients inside the Gerber Foundation Neonatal Center at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
Child and Family Life specialist Gay Sexton and her mother make the Halloween costumes by hand for these pint-sized bundles of joy. The felt creations come in all different colors, shapes and sizes so parents can pick out the perfect costumes.
“This event is so much fun for parents,” said Theresa Hartl, Child Life specialist at the hospital. “The normalization is so important for bonding with their baby. This may seem just like a lot of fun, but it’s very purposeful as well.”
Charlie Mazzotta was dressed as spaghetti and meatballs, and his mom, Kellie, said it was extremely appropriate as her husband is 100% Italian.
Little Charlie was born in early August and is medically complex. Charlie has a full head of hair and a big personality for being such a little guy. Kellie says he’s been a surprise since birth and continues to show them who he is as he grows a little more each day.
In the room just down the hall from Charlie, twins Olive and Jack Rusticus are dressed as Superman and Wonder Woman. Just shy of being a month old, the two continue to grow together in the NICU.
Week-old Grace Kueppers sported a beautiful and bright butterfly costume. Her mom, Kelsey, said Grace wasn’t expected to make it past birth and will be going home on hospice and palliative care later this week.
“We are hoping she will make it to Thanksgiving and Christmas, but this may be her only Halloween,” Kelsey said. “Her 2-year-old brother, Brayden, is really excited to meet her. We have already gotten more time than we had thought with her. Every day is a gift.”
Little Harlow Haverdink is just a few doors down and dressed as a mermaid.
“Her sister is really into mermaids, so she helped pick out Harlow’s costume,” Emily, Harlow’s mom, said with a smile.
Emily tested positive for COVID-19 while pregnant with Harlow and she came sooner than expected, hence the extended stay in the NICU.
“Having a baby while having COVID was a very difficult experience,” she said. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
Harlow tested positive for COVID-19 after birth, too, so the two had to quarantine for a bit to ensure nobody else would be exposed.
Eleven-day-old Novalle Bridges sported a strawberry covering.
“I picked a strawberry because it’s tiny, and so is she,” said her mother, Jessica.
Jessica’s Halloween plans have changed as well—her initial idea was to dress Novalle as a zombie in her belly, but here they are in the NICU instead.
A little further down the hall is Asaiah McKinney dressed as a pumpkin, and his cousin, Dariyah Cegelis, as a cupcake.
And in the Small Baby Unit sits 2-month-old twins Ben and Arlo Meiste, dressed as a cheeseburger and French fries combo.
Their mom, Stephanie, held Ben in her lap, smiling and rocking her bundle of fries.
“My husband, Darrin, and I love cheeseburgers,” she joked. “When they said this was an option for a costume, we just had to do it.”
Nurses said the twins both have vocal opinions and refer to them lovingly as the ‘feisty bros.’ In the NICU, clinicians like the babies to be feisty—it means they are heading in the right direction.
“It was pretty amazing to have the option to dress these two up,” Stephanie said. “It made me and my husband very happy.”