ORLANDO, Fla. – For more than five months, baby Enzo Henney has been kept in an incubator at Florida Hospital for Children with a hand-sewn heart tucked by his side.
His mother, Sara Henney, received a similar heart.
Both mother and son kept the specially crafted gifts with them for 24 hours to embed their scent in the soft material, then switched so they could always feel together even though the clear encasement of the incubator separated them physically.
“I’ve used the hearts for over five months,” Sara Henney said. “It helps knowing that even when I leave, he still senses me. Anything to stay connected helps; it gives me peace of mind.”
Volunteers sew the hearts for babies at Florida Hospital for Children's neonatal intensive care unit and their mothers. The goal, hospital officials said, is to strengthen the bond between mother and baby.
On Friday, Sara Henney and her husband, Spencer Henney, met volunteer Beth Saffer, who constructed the hearts Sara Henney and her baby have kept so near during their time in the NICU.
Enzo was born at 25 weeks and 4 days old weighing only 1 pound, 1 ounce and suffering from a congenital heart defect. On Sunday, he'll go home for the first time since he was born in August.
"Being able to leave a piece of me that smelled with him on the heart, it made me feel that at least he knew I was still there even if I wasn't physically in the room," Sara Henney said, speaking of having to leave her baby every day for months to return home to Brevard County. "It gave me some kind of peace knowing that he knew I was with him in some capacity."
Saffer estimates she and other volunteers have donated 1,000 hearts of love to premature babies like Enzo and other NICU patients, but Friday was the first time she met a recipient.
"I really didn't know the whole story and never really thought about how it impacts the family," Saffer said. "It makes me feel wonderful. I might go home and make some more."
Florida Hospital for Children staff said the hearts create more than a bond between parents and children while they are apart.
"We've seen a big increase in prevention of anxiety and depression that parents feel when they can't be here in the hospital," Summer Bernath, a child life specialist with the hospital said.
The Florida Hospital for Children is always in need of volunteers in dozens of different departments. Anyone interested in volunteering can click here for more information on how to set up an interview.