As the Prout Catholic High School hockey team made their way to the neo-natal intensive care unit inside Women and Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, to visit mothers who are spending the Christmas season holding tiny hands through incubators, some of them thought of their own stories of survival.
At least four of the Division 1 high school hockey players spent their first days of life this way. One so small, he was not expected to survive. Two of the teams’ captains, Tyler Simo and Owen Glass, were in the NICU for respiratory distress and breathing support. Another teammate was born prematurely and spent a couple of months in the NICU.
Ultimately they all graduated with flying colors and moved onto other challenges, like playing Division 1 hockey at a very reputatable Catholic high school in Wakefield, Rhode Island.
But service remains at the heart of Prout Hockey.
Players offered hope to so many women and families praying for the same outcome; watching tiny toes and fingers clutching for the warm hands of their parents spending sleepless nights in the hospital, holding onto their faith as tiny chests rise and fall learning how to breathe with premature lungs or other development issues so common in this unit.
Just ahead of a big game against Notre Dame High School played at Providence College, the team took the time to visit families spending Christmas this year at Women and Infants Hospital.
“It was an extremely amazing opportunity to be able to help families in need, and was definitely very positive for all of us,” senior Derek Gesmondi told the Register. “It’s always great to be active in the community, and being able to give back to a place that helps hundreds of babies, including some of our own players was awesome.”
Coach John Gaffney didn’t want the busy hockey season, even with his players winning the Christmas Winter Classic tournament, to take away the true meaning of why families all over the world come together to celebrate every December. “As we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus at Christmas, our young men sought to bring comfort to the families of the most vulnerable, babies in the NICU,” Coach Gaffney said. “The hope is that through this encounter both the families and our players more fully engage the true spirit of Christmas.”
During a recent visit to The Prout School, Bishop Richard G. Henning heard from some of the players about their visit and their desire to encourage and support the families. He shared his gratitude to the hockey team for their compassionate outreach to families suffering with and for their children in the Neo Natal intensive Care at Women and Infants Hospital in Providence.
“As several members of the team were themselves in NICU units as new-born infants, the message of solidarity and hope was powerful,” Bishop Henning said. “The team has seen remarkable success under the leadership of their fine coach, John Gaffney. I wish them every blessing as they continue their phenomenal season. These boys have proven themselves winners in every sense. May God bless their skill on the ice and their faith, hope, and love in the arena of life!”
And tiny babies are surviving and thriving in this busy 80-bed neonatal unit, one of the largest in the country. Players met with Dr. Laurie Hoffman who serves as associate medical director at Women and Infants Hospital’s NICU. The players listened intently as she described the smallest patient celebrating Christmas at the hospital this winter, clocking in at just 2 pounds and just about the size of a large hand.
As the players came delivering 70 gift bags for the families inside the Women and Infant’s NICU, Dr. Hoffman was really touched. “We were able to deliver gifts to each of our patients that day and had extra for the upcoming admissions,” Dr. Hoffman told the Register. “The families were so incredibly grateful and all commented on what an amazing gift this was from such nice, young men.” The bags included snacks for the families, children’s books, infant hats/socks, and more. A small hockey stick ornament engraved with WIH NICU 2023 decorated the bags.
Spending Christmas or any holiday inside a hospital room is a daunting experience for any family and affects many mothers who are welcoming a son or daughter. “The holiday season can bring waves of emotion for our families in the NICU. Parents are often balancing the joy and celebration of new life and family with the challenge of having their child be sick or simply not home for the holidays,” Dr. Hoffman elaborated and she said the hospital goes above and beyond to make these crucial moments count for families in this predicament.
“The private rooms in the 80-bed NICU at Women and Infants provides an opportunity to bring some of the holiday spirit to the bedside. Many families decorate the baby’s room for the season. Through our Family Advisory Counsel, March of Dimes and local charities, our families have made crafts and gifts, have meals or treats delivered, receive gifts for their baby and even got a visit from Santa,” Dr. Hoffman said. “Our team members often dress up in holiday clothes or accessories to celebrate the season. While many of our patients were not home for Christmas, there was a sense of community, cheer and holiday spirit in the NICU!”
Katelyn Adams, mother to Baby Ramona who is spending her first Christmas in the hospital was so grateful for the visits, gifts, and said even her bundle of joy relished her first photo shoot with Santa.
“I delivered our daughter in the beginning of November, seven weeks early. We will spend 3 major holidays with our baby in the NICU,” proud Mom Katelyn told the Register. “Spending the holidays in the NICU has been difficult and something I could never have imagined I would experience. But there is a sense of community and comfort surrounded by families just like you.,” she said. “Women and Infants did an amazing job to make this holiday season special, with the 12 days of Christmas, a holiday meal and even a visit from Santa himself. Ramona seemed to enjoy her photo shoot and special time with Santa. While our holiday was very different, it was quietly spent with the best gift we could ever receive.”
Finding ways to serve and direct the hearts of Prout students to our Catholic faith’s call to the higher good is a crucial part of the school’s hockey team, one that Dr. Melissa Murphy takes seriously as not only a physician on staff at Women and Infants and Executive Chief Of Surgery for Care New England but also as part of the Prout Hockey community service planning committee. “As we shared with the NICU parents that at least 4 current members of the Prout hockey team spent time in the NICU while they were infants, this gave families hope for their own children’s futures,” Dr. Murphy told the Register, adding:
“We hope this tradition continues in years to come and that the hockey captains pick a community service activity that is meaningful to them and the team.”
And as a proud aunt to Prout hockey player Riley Smith, one of the first babies I ever cradled and fell in love with, and as sister to the chief of surgery, I am forever grateful for the spirit of service and sport that go hand in hand at this very unique one-of-a-kind Catholic high school: a very Prout moment indeed.
Murphy, Alyssa: (c) 2023 EWTN News, Inc. Reprinted with permission from the National Catholic Register — http://www.ncregister.com.