Group helps improve Calgary NICUs by offering ‘parental lens’

Parents who access the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Foothills Medical Centre are now greeted with a cheerful mural, mint green walls and inspiring photos of so-called “NICU grads.”

The now-thriving children were once tiny pre-term babies receiving specialized care.

“We wanted to make a very calming and serene space for parents and families,” said Salima Dharshi, a volunteer member of the recently formed Family Advisory Council.


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Since April, 2018, a group of 28 parents has been working with Alberta Health Services on ways to make things easier for families whose kids are currently receiving NICU care.

All of the parents on the council know first-hand what those families are going through because they too once had babies on the unit.

Dharshi delivered twins, a son and a daughter, when they were just 27 weeks.

“My daughter was the bigger one, she was two pounds, three ounces, and my son was two pounds and one ounce,” she recalled.

“It was very stressful. It was an emotional roller coaster. We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know what to do. It was really scary.”

Seven years later, Inaya and Ilaan are active, healthy children. Ilaan enjoys hockey while his sister is learning to figure skate. Neither child shows any sign of the difficult way they began their life but Dharshi remembers those months spent in the NICU well.

“They received great care but there were small things that I think, if we can work on that, the system can be even better.”

“It’s super important to have that parental lens on everything we do because we’re servicing them,” said Dani Smith, clinical project manager at the Foothills NICU.

“We’ve essentially just integrated them into all that we do here — our processes, our policies and our delivery of care.”

In addition to the hallway improvements, the parent advisory council has launched a new peer support program that pairs families who have had experience with the NICU with parents whose kids are currently in care.

The council will also be involved in planning upcoming renovation and expansion projects for NICUs at both the Foothills and South Health Campus.

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