NICU nurses put their hands and hearts together to support March for Babies




After COVID cancels the annual March of Dimes fundraising walk, team members unite to make blankets and hats and to do a virtual walk.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

Kelly Hughes was super excited to lead a team for this year’s March for Babies walk. Then COVID-19 struck, and her plans, like everyone else’s, changed.

So this year’s March of Dimes event went virtual. Team captains shifted their focus to other ways to give back to the charitable organization that works to prevent birth defects and infant death.

Hughes, one of several team captains supporting Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, switched from gearing up for a 5k to learning how to crochet.

She and other team members who work the night shift in the Riley NICU at IU Health Methodist Hospital wanted to put their hands and hearts together to make blankets for the babies they care for every day. But she didn’t know how.

So, she turned to her nursing colleague and crochet whiz Jodi Marchal for help.

“I’ve always crocheted and knitted,” Marchal said. “Kelly wanted to start making blankets, so I taught several of my colleagues how to crochet, and here we are. It’s been fun.”

Hughes said her first attempt “was a little ugly, but I got better.”

She and several other nurses worked on the blankets during breaks at work and at home. But they weren’t alone. Family members got out their crochet hooks and knitting needles to aid in the effort.

“There is a doctor on the unit whose mom is making some in Texas, my grandma sent some from Florida, an aunt of someone sent blankets from St. Louis,” Hughes said. “They’re coming from all over.”

They had collected dozens of handmade blankets by the end of the virtual March for Babies campaign last week. Riley was a presenting sponsor for the event.

Meanwhile, other teams in the Riley NICU, IU Health North Hospital and IU Health Community Health jumped in to help as well by knitting little hats and doing a virtual walk on Friday.

Kiley Wanecke, project manager for the newly opened Community Health department within IU Health, organized a group of about two dozen team members for the virtual walk, raising money for the March for Babies campaign.

The team’s original goal was $250, but they ended up raising more than four times that amount. Team members, wearing their IU Health Serves T-shirts took selfies while completing their walks last week.

“People have been so generous,” Wanecke said. “It’s been neat to see.”

Hughes, who was active in March of Dimes while in college, said making the blankets has been therapeutic for her during a stressful time.

“I told a couple of the girls that it has been relaxing because I feel like I have to focus so much on what I’m doing that my mind doesn’t have a chance to race as much about the pandemic and everything that’s happening,” she said. “We’re doing it for March of Dimes, but many of us will continue to do it for our own sake.”

Besides Hughes and Wanecke, other team captains were Riley NICU nurse Yolandi Geldenhuis and IU North NICU nurse Laura Boyle.