Premature baby parents Mark and Gail Wilson ready to give others a helping hand
A Co Tyrone couple have praised the care given to them at Craigavon Area Hospital after the premature birth of their son.
And as a thank-you, they have launched a campaign to help provide care packages for new parents who will be in hospital over Christmas.
Daniel Wilson, born 10 weeks early, spent the first five weeks of his life in the neonatal unit in Craigavon. Proud parents Mark and Gail Wilson from Cookstown were so delighted with the treatment they and their new son received, they've decided to try to give a little something back to the unit in time for Christmas.
During what was a very difficult time for the first time parents, both teachers, they said they were overwhelmed by the kindness of the nursing team in helping them through those stressful early days.
Daniel is now home and thriving and the couple are hoping to give a little something back to the hospital - and to help new mums in particular celebrate their special first Christmas with their new baby.
"It was all a bit frantic at the start," said Mark recalling being thrown into fatherhood before he expected.
"We were up at a practice day for the Open Golf Championship in July and Gail had been walking around Portrush without any problems. There had been no issues with her pregnancy at all.
"But the next day she started taking cramps. We went to hospital in the early hours of Friday morning and were a bit shocked when we were told the baby could come at any stage in the next 36 hours."
Daniel was born at 8.41am on Saturday morning, July 20, weighing 3lbs 15oz.
"Naturally we were worried. He was 10 weeks early and it was a very emotional time for us.
"We'd had no time to prepare and for the next five weeks we felt like part-time parents. Going home every night without your baby wasn't easy. Psychologically hard. You just want to be with him.
"But the staff were terrific with us. We were able to phone in at any time and even though we knew Daniel wasn't the baby in their care in the most difficulty, the care of the staff made us feel safe and secure. We knew he was in the best hands.
"It was the little touches that helped us feel special," said Mark.
"Gail was celebrating her 30th birthday on August 15 and Daniel was still in the neonatal unit, but what the staff did for her convinced Gail to try to give something back to the ward for the care they offered.
"They took the time to make her a special card from Daniel, using his footprints, and had a birthday banner over his cot when we arrived. It was a lovely gesture and it meant so much to us, particularly as first-time parents who felt they'd been thrown in at the deep end."
Gail said she wants her packages to be for both mums and dads to enjoy. "I thought it would be a great idea to collect care packages for other mums and dads who might be going through a similar experience, particularly over Christmas," she said.
"Initially I thought I might get one or two shoeboxes gathered together but the response has been amazing so far."
The couple are already well on the way to putting their shoeboxes together thanks to support from family and friends, and it's been so successful they're extending their efforts to allow other members of the community to contribute to making a baby and mum's first Christmas together special even if it is in hospital.
"We know through experience that the little things can really make the experience so much better," said Mark.
"Parents can't be there all day with their newborns, but just knowing that there are nurses there who care so well for your baby is wonderful.
"Every little thing can help, so Gail has started collecting simple items for parents who could be thrown into the same situation.
"There are several locations across the Mid-Ulster area to donate simple gifts, like shower gel, fluffy socks, story books to read to their newborns, relaxing bath bombs to take the stress away.
"We just want to help make other new parent's journey through the neonatal unit as memorable as possible. The nurses in Craigavon went out of their way to make our time with Daniel there as special as possible. If we can do the same for others at Christmas we'll be delighted. It can be an extremely stressful time for families.
"We've seen how they go about their jobs. We've seen the stories around the health service and how it's struggling to cope. Our experience was nothing short of faultless.
"We're going to have a wonderful first Christmas with Daniel. It would be brilliant to help make it a wonderful first Christmas for other new parents too."
Gail has also started to hand make "Baby's first Christmas" baubles to add to the shoe boxes and the couple plan to continue their support for the neonatal unit by running the Belfast marathon next year.
In the meantime they are collecting items for their shoeboxes, which they plan to deliver in Christmas Eve, from the following locations: Dungannon; Stewart's Music Shop, Patterson Centra. Cookstown; Graeme Black Eyecare, Cuppatinos CAFE. Markethill; RTS Tiles.