Former IU athlete brings joy, pride to Riley project




Delroy Baker Jr. finds his footing after football as a project coordinator for the new Maternity Tower, which opened this month.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

Delroy Baker Jr. is sitting in the atrium of the new Riley Children’s Health Maternity Tower. The glass elevators bop up and down behind him as he soaks up the sense of achievement that comes from helping open the tower.

Baker, a project coordinator with the Design and Construction team at IU Health, came late to the party, actually. He joined IU Health in August and was immediately thrust into the role of outfitting the new tower with the equipment and supplies needed for opening day.

That big day was delayed from September to November due to COVID-19, giving him more time to feel a sense of ownership in the new wing before moving on to the next building project.

“It will be sad to say goodbye to my first baby, so to speak,” he joked, as he considered the task of wrapping up the project and leaving Riley.

The expansive addition to Riley Hospital for Children focuses on new moms and their babies, bringing expert care for both under one roof.

Baker professional photo

For Baker, it’s part dream, part destiny how he came to be involved.

A first-generation American, he was born to Jamaican parents in Florida, where he spent his formative years. Those years were troubled by a health condition that had him and his mom in and out of hospitals.

The petit mal seizures he suffered as a child would strike without warning – he’d be crossing the street to the school bus stop and suddenly stop in place. Sometimes he would walk into walls. Brief, sudden lapses of attention were how they presented.

“I spent a lot of time at hospitals in Florida in the early 2000s,” he said. “It feels like forever ago to me when I spent nights at the hospital getting all the ice cream and video games I could stand.”

He took medication for a while, but the seizures eventually disappeared. The experience, however, shaped him.

He always knew he wanted to do something to help kids. Recruited to play football at Indiana University, the 6-foot-6 offensive lineman volunteered at Camp Riley and other places as a student athlete.

He graduated from IU with a degree in psychology and went into social work for a few years, before deciding he needed a career change.

“I have a natural affinity for people and felt I could use my degree in any field,” he said.

When he interviewed for the project coordinator role at IU Health, he was immediately drawn to the culture.

“They explained the IU Health values, and I’m like, ‘sign me up,’” he laughed.

Being assigned to the Riley Maternity Tower project in his first week on the job was an honor, said Baker, who is planning a July wedding with his fiancée, Madeleine Vala.

Baker and his fiancee, Madeleine Vala

“There’s no better way to kick off my career here than with this project. I have a heart to help people, and I’m drawn to working with kids and parents.”

What are the odds, he thought, that he would once again be in a hospital, this time as an adult walking past neurology every day and seeing kids and parents going in for appointments, just as he did as a child.

In a social media post after the tower opened earlier this month, Baker wrote about how he feels connected to the children he sees every day at Riley, kids whose smiles persist despite the challenges they may face.

“I was once in their shoes, spending many days with my mother in and out of hospitals, countless trips to the doctors’ offices and testing to determine what was the cause of the seizures I was experiencing as a child.”

While most children born in the new Riley Maternity Tower won’t have those experiences, they will have access to the best specialists immediately, in the same building, should they require specialized treatment, he said, concluding with: “Indianapolis families, here’s to the best care designed for you!”

Baker has made an impression on the team in the new tower, according to both Nicole Toole, director of maternity and newborn health, and Paula Shaner, clinical program manager.

“Delroy is the quiet strength of the Riley Maternity project,” Shaner said. “He listens intently and performs so efficiently that I’m in awe.”

Quick with a smile and a helping hand, she added, “he is smart, kind, funny and has a gigantic heart.”

And about those IU Health values? He lives them, she said, displaying teamwork, compassion and purpose in everything he does and delivering excellence in his work.

“Strength, determination, commitment and joy are the things that Delroy has brought to this project. I am so excited to watch him do great things for IU Health.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,