By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
For months, Jessica Rose has spent hours looking out the window of her son’s room at Riley Hospital for Children. It helps anchor her in reality as day fades into night in the NICU.
Some days are clear and bright, some cloudy and gray, often reflecting her mood. But it was all blue skies and sunshine greeting her through that window Thursday morning.
She took the opportunity to shower while her baby was with occupational therapist Brittany McFarland, and when she dressed and stepped out of the bathroom, she saw a message of hope outside the window on top of the Riley parking garage. It was directed at her and her tiny son with the big name, Honor Ace Alexander Rose Jackson.
In big, bold letters were the words #HonorStrong.
The surprise chalk drawing was the work of Riley music therapist Lauren Servos, in tandem with Riley art therapists who created the message Thursday after an overnight snowfall.
Rose held back tears as she looked out the window.
“It’s very touching,” she said, while cuddling 7-month-old Honor, who was born in June, three months premature. The fact that he is alive today is reason to celebrate, but the fact that others care so much for them means everything to her.
“I know Lauren would do something like this,” Rose said. “The whole time we’ve been here, you could just see it in her eyes, her wishing with all her heart she could do something to cheer me up.”
A MOTHER’S LOVE
Servos was thrilled to be able to give Jessica this simple, but powerful, gift.
“Honor and Jessica have been through so much during this hospitalization, but their love for each other remains stronger than ever,” Servos said. “Honor has been a music therapy patient of mine for over six months. When he feels good, we sing songs and play with toys to help him reach developmental milestones. When he doesn’t feel good, I sing lullabies and play guitar.”
The idea for the chalk drawing came from Rose, but she had no idea that Servos was working behind the scenes to make it happen.
“I contacted my boss and got approval for the chalk art,” Servos said. “When I presented the idea to some other members of the psychosocial care team and the creative art therapists, many people were eager to help. Since the NICU is Honor’s home for now, we hope the artwork gives Jessica some joy and hope until her baby can come home with her.”
Rose is grateful for the gesture and to know that her son has made an impact on those around him.
“As we watch Honor get better, they’re her victories, too,” she said of Servos. “She’s helped us so much. She comes and sings to him. She holds him when I can’t be here. It means a lot to me.”
This is not Rose’s first long-term stay at Riley with a child. Seventeen years ago, when she was just 16, she gave birth to a little girl, Jaylen, who spent nine months at Riley before she passed away.
The memories are painful, but Rose knew this is where Honor needed to be. Seeing some familiar faces, including NICU nurse Chrissy Cary, who cared for Jaylen all those years ago, has been comforting, she said.
“She’s amazing; she knows how to deal with me.”
As Rose talks, she rocks Honor in her arms, even as he is connected to various machines and monitors. His brown eyes follow people around the room before they grow heavy and close, revealing long, beautiful lashes. Rose calls the lashes his super power.
Born at 27 weeks via emergency C-section, Honor weighed 1 pound, 10 ounces. He was delivered early to save his mother’s life when she developed pre-eclampsia, a life-threatening condition characterized by high blood pressure and organ failure.
Today, he is a cuddly 12 pounds, 12 ounces, a boy full of personality who has charmed everyone on the NICU floor.
“Honor’s a really big deal around here, aren’t you,” she says to her sleeping baby. “Everybody loves this little boy. When I’m not here, I know he’s loved on.”
Count Dr. Brian Gray, pediatric surgeon, among his fans.
“Honor certainly is a miracle baby,” Dr. Gray said. “I first operated on him when he weighed about 1 pound and was in septic shock. We could never find a source for his illness, and he amazingly pulled through with some antibiotics.”
His tiny patient required several more operations, the surgeon said, “and he has kept on trucking through it all. I’m truly astounded every time I see his growth and progress in the NICU.”
Rose is amazed as well. She admits that when he was first born, the fear of losing him kept her from bonding with him immediately. It’s not just the loss of her daughter 17 years ago. She has lost two more babies pre-term due to pre-eclampsia. Their names were Freedom and Pride.
Twelve years ago, however, she gave birth to a healthy boy who is the joy of her life.
“I had a perfect pregnancy with Dalen,” she said. “He is perfectly healthy, and he is eager to meet his little brother.”
The brothers have been unable to meet in person due to COVID-19 visitor restrictions.
“HONOR IS STRONG”
With Honor’s father working out of state, Rose has been the one staying by her baby’s bedside as much as she can. But don’t call her strong.
“What people knew about me for so long was that I’m the girl that had a baby that passed away,” she said, referring to her daughter from long ago. “People would say, ‘you’re so strong.’ It made me so angry. I am not the strong one. You have no idea what that baby went through. So when they started telling me that with Honor, I say, ‘Honor is strong,’ ” she said.
“If I knew how to give up, I might do it. I haven’t had a choice. Honor doesn’t give up, so how can I? This boy has literally beaten death so many times.”
When her little boy was born last June, she knew the odds weren’t good, and she prepared his dad for the worst, she said.
“I thought for sure I was going to lose him.”
But Honor kept fighting, so Rose did too.
And on this day, she has just finished reading him a new book she picked up on the way to the hospital. It’s a baby version of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.”
“Baby, oh, baby, the places you’ll go! The worlds you will visit, the friends you will know.”
She wonders about the places her little guy will go, but right now she just hopes he’ll be headed home soon.
“He’s touched a lot of lives,” she said. “I think he’s gonna shock us all.”
Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com