Books help tell their story about life in the NICU

Patient Stories |



Four-year-old Cora “graduated” from the NICU in 2018, but she and her mom returned last week with a donation to help other families.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer,

As her tiny daughter lay in the NICU shortly after birth, Holly Diethrich didn’t know what to do. She desperately wanted to create a tiny slice of normalcy for her baby girl, so she took the nurses’ advice and began to read to her.

As the minutes ticked by and the days melted from one to the next, the new mom kept reading – book after book, hour after hour.

“The next several weeks, we didn’t know what was going to happen, and it was reading those books to my baby in the NICU that was the only piece of normal,” she said.

“My baby should be home. I should be reading her books, dressing her in cute little outfits,” she told herself in those early days after Cora Diethrich was airlifted from a hospital in Terre Haute to Riley Children’s Health just hours after her birth.

“That was the one little piece of home that I was able to share with her in those really emotional and intimate moments in the first several weeks.”

Four years later, Cora is a happy, healthy preschooler with a giving heart. That heart was on full display last week when she and her mom delivered more than 150 children’s books to the Riley Cheer Guild so, in Cora’s words, “other mommies can read to their babies.”

Cora asked for donations of books to celebrate her birthday in February. Her mom expected maybe 50, but “they kept coming and coming,” Holly said.

Last Wednesday, mom and daughter reunited with members of Cora’s care team to drop off the books, including some of her favorite titles like “Arnie the Doughnut,” “Carla’s Sandwich” and “Animalia” and Holly’s favorite, “You’re Here for a Reason.”

“I still can’t read that last one without getting choked up,” Holly said.

The tears still come when she talks about the weeks that Cora spent in Riley’s NICU, first undergoing a lung surgery and several related procedures, all performed by Dr. Matt Landman, director of trauma at Riley.

Dr. Landman was on hand for last week’s book donation, along with flight nurse and NP Heather Bruckman, whom Holly entrusted with her daughter’s care in those emotional hours after her birth, and nurses Jennifer Welcher and Tori Thomas.

“We were blessed to be met by the most wonderful care team. Heather was put into our lives for a reason, said Holly, recalling how scary it was for her to let her newborn leave the hospital without her.

Bruckman reassured her: “Mom, I will take care of your baby as if she is my own. We will meet you there. I will hold her, I will be with her, I will never leave her side until you are reunited with your baby.”

And she kept that promise, waiting with Cora until Holly arrived by car.

Today, she and her daughter keep the entire team in their hearts.

“Dr. Landman is wonderful and still stays in touch with Cora. We relied on him and Dr. Brian Gray – they’re all so wonderful and still in our lives,” she said.

“It’s very important for us to maintain and nurture the relationships we have with our Riley family. The little things meant so much to me while I was there, and we want to be able to help another mom and another family to feel those little pieces of home.”

When you’re in the middle of a situation like that, she said, you often don’t know what questions to ask. You don’t know what you need.

“The nurses told me to read to her and explained the importance of her hearing my voice and knowing I was there,” Holly said. “Reading still connects us. We read five books a day – two books at breakfast, one at dinner and two at bedtime.”

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