Born weighing two pounds, eight ounces, baby Colton lived his first four months in Christiana Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). His dad, Steve Moore, on days off from work, drove Colton’s mother, Nicole Brinker, more than 180 miles round-trip from home so that she could be with her precious preemie.

When travel expenses quickly added up for the couple, Christiana Care’s Kitty Esterly, M.D., NICU Special Needs Fund helped them bear the costs.

Christiana Care is committed to making health care affordable. Learn more about Christiana Care’s Financial Assistance Program. You can support families with babies in the NICU by making a gift today.

Although private insurance or Medicaid covers most medical treatments for newborns, out-of-pocket NICU-related expenses — for transportation, prescriptions, baby supplies, medical equipment, lodging and meals — can place a burden on families with limited budgets. Christiana Care established the NICU Special Needs Fund to take financial worry away from parents and caregivers so they can focus on spending critical time with their newest family member.

“Colton was born almost four months premature,” said Brinker. “Going back and forth to visit our little guy for months wasn’t something his dad and I had planned, and our paychecks only stretch so far. Gas station gift cards from the NICU were a life-saver. We could buy gas and something extra to eat. Without this boost, we wouldn’t have been able to visit Colton as often and for as long. The support meant everything to my family—it was one less thing to worry about.”

Today, baby Colton is home, doing well and being “spoiled” by his parents and five older siblings.

Today, Colton is home, doing well and according to his parents “spoiled” by his parents and five older siblings.

Dr. Katherine “Kitty” Esterly, known as Delaware’s “infant health hero” devoted five pioneering decades at Christiana Care.

Named for Kitty Esterly, M.D., who was a pioneer in neonatology and former chair of Christiana Care’s Department of Pediatrics, the NICU Special Needs Fund is one of many ways that Christiana Care serves as a caring partner in the health and well-being of its neighbors.

“Dr. Esterly cared deeply and passionately about every baby,” said David A. Paul, M.D., FAAP, physician leader, Women’s and Children’s service line, and chair, Department of Pediatrics. “This fund helps Christiana Care’s most vulnerable newborns by assisting their families.”

Nationwide annually, 10 to 15 percent of babies born are admitted to a NICU for some period of time. In Delaware, Christiana Hospital is the only high-risk delivering hospital providing Level III neonatal intensive care — the highest level of care. Fully equipped with advanced technology and expert neonatal specialists, the NICU averages 1,200 admissions yearly. Patients come from the hospital’s delivery room or are brought from area hospitals by the health system’s neonatal transport team.

The NICU staff works around-the-clock to nurture these fragile lives to stronger, better health and to extend dignified, respectful and compassionate supportive services, like the Special Needs Fund, to their families.

“When families are expecting, they prepare for life after delivery — setting up the nursery, buying diapers, a car seat and other baby supplies. So an early birth or admission to the NICU is blindsiding, financially and emotionally,” said Jennifer Stevenson, MSS, MLSP, LCSW, NICU social work supervisor. “The NICU Special Needs Fund lets us help when families need something like special preemie clothes or a smaller car seat. It’s a safety net during a very stressful time. Our NICU families are extremely grateful for the help we provide.”

The NICU’s healing programs and exceptional quality of care have earned national recognition, including a 2014 Success Story Award from Press Ganey, a trailblazer in patient experience measurement and performance improvement, for patient-focused, family-friendly care.