A grandmother’s fundraising efforts bring comfort to new babies at the Aberdeen Hospital

A newborn at the Aberdeen Hospital receiving phototherapy
A newborn at the Aberdeen Hospital receiving phototherapy and cuddles thanks to a new Biliblanket made possible by Debbie Walsh’s fundraising efforts and community support. (Aberdeen Health Foundation)

At 11:55 a.m. on Dec. 20, 2016, Meghan Walsh and her fiancée, Jake MacInnis welcomed their daughter to the world four weeks earlier than expected.

Their daughter Dani was born at the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow and spent the first week of her life there undergoing phototherapy to regulate her bilirubin levels.

Dani was extremely jaundiced, which occurs when babies have a high level of bilirubin and she had to be in an incubator to receive the phototherapy she needed to improve. 

Breastfeeding became extremely overwhelming as Walsh struggled with the balance between much needed therapy and navigating breastfeeding as a new mother. 

“I felt like I missed out on those precious first few days because I didn’t really get to hold her and I was struggling with breastfeeding,” said Walsh. 

When Walsh’s mother Debbie Walsh saw the distress that her daughter was facing, she knew she had to do something to help.

“Because Dani was born premature she wasn’t breastfeeding well and it was all very emotional and hard,” said Debbie. “Meghan was having a hard time because Dani had to be under the phototherapy lights. 

“We wanted her to receive as much phototherapy as possible, which unfortunately resulted in her spending more time in the incubator and less time learning to breastfeed.” 

When Debbie was talking to her other daughter who is a NICU nurse in Northern Ontario, the topic of BiliBlankets came up. 

A BiliBlanket is portable medical device that allows babies to get the phototherapy they need while being held or wrapped in a blanket. 

Adequate and effective feeding plays a big role in helping decrease bilirubin levels. The BiliBlanket allows parents to hold, have skin-to-skin contact and feed their babies while receiving their light treatment.

“I knew that this was something our community needed,” said Debbie.

The next day Debbie arrived to visit her daughter with an added mission. 

“Debbie came in and asked us if we had a Biliblanket,” said Deborah MacDonald, Women and Children Health manager at Aberdeen Hospital. “We explained that we didn’t and she said ‘I’m going to raise the money to buy one.’” 

Debbie then reached out to the Aberdeen Health Foundation

“I was very moved by Debbie’s story and humbled by the way she committed to making this technology possible for others even though her own family didn’t have the benefit of it,” said Michelle Ferris, Aberdeen Health Foundation Executive Director. 

“Debbie is just such a great example of how one person can make a difference that has a beautiful ripple effect on the lives of others.”

When Debbie learned the price for one Biliblanket was $7,500 she thought it would take her about a year to raise that money. She reached out to family and friends and soon her fundraising was in full swing.

“I started off doing bottle drives and then different businesses around the community began donating money, it was really amazing.” 

Three months later Debbie surpassed her goal and raised $12,000.

“It felt great to know that I helped out and had so much support from our community,” she added. 

The Aberdeen Hospital has had the Biliblanket for eight months now.

“The Biliblanket has made a huge difference in our community and it’s all because Debbie saw a need for it and wanted to help,” said MacDonald. “We use it all the time!”