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Acing the NICU: How I’m giving preemies like me a fighting chance

I was born as a premature baby 10 weeks early and weighing just 2 lbs. My identical twin had passed away at 26 weeks due to complications. I, too, had complications and the odds were certainly stacked against me.

I was born with two holes in my heart, hypothyroidism and chronic lung disease. The nurses and doctors at the Baylor Scott and White Medical Center – Grapevine neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) took care of me and saved my life.

Today, I’m healthy and active like any other 18-year-old. But growing up, hearing my parents tell the story of my birth made an impact on me. I know I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for the heroes who cared for me and my family in the NICU.

Right after my birth, my family found comfort in the care and knowledge they received from my doctors and nurses. The ability of neonatal healthcare professionals to impact the lives of others is built upon the education and resources available to them to care for precious newborns.

I know I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for the heroes who cared for me and my family in the NICU.

Knowing this, the idea for Love Babies was born. Love Babies is a charity that I founded in 2017 that combines my passion for tennis with my desire to give premature babies the resources to thrive and grow up happy and healthy.

I felt that if I could contribute to the NICU team’s efforts, I could help save lives and give preemies the chance that I have been given.

Related: My journey from NICU baby to NICU nurse

During its first year, the Love Babies Tennis Tournament raised $7,800, far surpassing our initial goal. All the proceeds from the tournament went toward the purchase of special x-ray plates that allow premature babies to get x-rays in a safer environment, without needing to be moved out of their incubators.  

Seeing Love Babies’ impact in its inaugural year, I was committed to make the tournament an annual event.

We had over 160 women in our first year. In 2018, we grew the event to take place over three days, hosting more than 220 players and raising over $16,500. The Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Grapevine NICU team used this money to purchase specialized recliners for parents to hold their premature babies and bond with them. This also helped fund a KangaREAD program that provides books for parents to read to their newborns, both inside and outside of the hospital.

The best part of my experience while building and growing Love Babies has been the ability to witness the generosity and compassion that our community has toward others in need.

This year, Love Babies has a goal to raise $20,000. All net proceeds will go toward purchasing an infant simulator robot designed to help the nurses learn and practice neonatal resuscitation protocols. It allows nurses to understand how it feels to run certain procedures on a fragile newborn properly and safely. The robot will revolutionize the abilities of staff in the hospital and make them even more knowledgeable and prepared for the next challenge that comes their way.

The best part of my experience while building and growing Love Babies has been the ability to witness the generosity and compassion that our community has toward others in need. All I had was an idea that gave people the ability to support a cause that affects so many families.

It is a small impact in terms of a monetary donation, but Love Babies has become a platform with a tremendous impact on other people who are experiencing the ups and downs of life with a premature infant.

This blog post was written by Cale Balusek, former NICU baby, varsity tennis player and inspiring advocate for premature babies.

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Acing the NICU: How I’m giving preemies like me a fighting chance