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Children leave mark on ‘Wall of Hope’

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City was the scene of laughter, hugs, tears of joy and paint-smeared little hands and feet on Sept. 29, as 72 former patients placed their prints on the NICU Wall of Hope.
Twice a year, Niswonger’s NICU invites families of babies who have been discharged in the last six months to return for a reunion with their caregivers and to finally add their babies’ prints to the revered wall that has provided hope and inspiration to countless parents over the last decade.
The event is a combination celebration and educational activity offering information about infant massage, baby head positioning, March of Dimes early intervention program and other infant-related health issues.
But for both families and the NICU staff, pressing the babies’ hands or feet to the wall is a stepping stone that marks triumph over a difficult and emotional time.
Kayla Fletcher’s son, Hunter Lundy, weighed just 1 pound, 9 ounces when he was born at Sycamore Shoals Hospital. Hunter spent the next five months in NICU at Niswonger. At one time, Kayla was told that her son would not make it.
“I knew if he could just get his little foot on the wall, he’d be OK,” she said.
Hunter did just that during last month’s celebration.
NICU nurses Sydney Gilbert and Eleanor Masters spearheaded the wall project years ago when the department was being remodeled.
“At that time we called it our ‘Graduate Wall,’” Gilbert said. “But the parents renamed it the ‘Wall of Hope.’ So many mothers would say that they would look at the wall, see all those little hand prints there and feel hope that their child would go home, too.”
Every September and March, families return to paint and party with those who helped them through their toughest times.
“These people (nurses) became my family,” said Katie Covington, mom of Addyson, who spent five weeks in NICU. “I wanted to make sure she had her feet on the wall. When she’s 5 years old, I can bring her back here, and she’ll have an understanding of what she went through and what I went through here. It represents a journey that we’ve both made and that she’s a miracle. She’s happy and healthy and now all she has to do is grow.”