When paediatric nurse Catherine McConville asked for help to create hand-made knitted sleeves for babies in her hospital neo-natal unit, she never expected thousands of people across the world to volunteer.
Mrs McConville, who works at The Rosie Hospital – part of Cambridgeshire’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital – thought she may get a few extra sleeves for the premature babies who were still in hospital receiving treatment, but no longer needed intensive care.
She asked Olivia Cundell, who is the creator of the Warm Baby Project, to help her get the word out there by posting on the project’s very popular Facebook page but both were astounded when the request led to more than 26,000 comments, and close to 100,000 shares in just a few days.
Her request was for tiny sleeves to cover the intravenous tubes (cannulas) which are used to help keep the babies alive. These sleeves prevent the babies from getting scratched.
Mrs McConville’s original post said: “The majority of our babies are ex-prems and little. We have lots of babies receiving IV antibiotics and use little knitted tubes to cover the cannulas. They are single patient use and we never have a good supply. I have written some instructions and would be so grateful for your help.”
Just days later, she’s already having to find extra space in her home to host the sheer volume of donations.
The nurse, who’s a mother of four children, said: “I’d just started a new job and they knew I am good at crafts, so I was asked if I could knit a few. But then I realised how many we needed, so I decided to ask for help. I created a pattern for an open sleeve and so many people have been following it. The response has been wonderful.”
She stressed that all donations would be washed extensively before being taken to the ward and used on any baby.
“The site of entry of the IV line is always covered by a sterile clear adhesive dressing. These covers do not affect the sterile dressing.”
Her post generated comments around the importance of these sorts of covers, and prompted parents to share images of their own premature babies and the homemade knitted items used to make the experience better for the whole family. Others, working in care homes, said it would give their residents a boost as they would want to help too. Offers to help have come in from Dubai, America and Australia.
It also helped give a boost to The Warm Baby Project and its fundraising goals. Olivia Cundell, who set the project up two years ago, said there had been a significant rise in offers of wool, materials and monetary donations, as well as people offering up their craft skills.
Leah Adams from Cambridge was among those who felt prompted to respond to the Facebook post, with a picture of her daughter showing a closed cover that she had been given when the child was born.
She said there had been challenges around her daughter’s birth six months ago and that led to additional time in hospital, which was stressful.
But, she said, the sleeves her family had been given, which had also been donated through a different call out on The Warm Baby Project, had been of huge help.
“From the mishaps of her birth, she had to feed through a tube and had a cannula in to get her antibiotics through.
“Everything was extremely overwhelming already; let alone seeing multiple tubes going into my baby’s body – the sleeve we were kindly given through the project helped a great amount as all the horrible things were covered, as well as still looking presentable.”
Danielle Bradshaw from Norfolk is a mother of twins, who has also benefited from the Warm Baby Project. Her babies were born two months early last June. She said: “We had no clothes, no hospital bag, nothing… all of a sudden we got a box full of preemie clothes and knitted goods, which was amazing. It meant we weren’t having to buy any clothes during a highly stressful time.
“Knowing there were kind people knitting essentials out of the kindness of their hearts without even knowing us was incredible.”
Olivia Cundell, of the Warm Baby Project, said she first came up with the idea of co-ordinating knit projects for hospitals, after a close family friend’s child was born premature, but never expected the project to grow as much as it has.
Many hospitals and groups have been helped by the volunteer project. As well as co-ordinating the thousands of items that have been sent out in the past two years, Ms Cundell has even been able to order containers which are dotted around Suffolk for others to donate wool. She’s now hoping this can be expanded across the UK.
Kathy Kendall regularly responds to requests from the Warm Baby Project group. She says she was prompted to do so as her granddaughter, who is now 20, was born premature. “I wanted to help other babies and I have knitted loads.”
As for Mrs McConville and the bags of post she’s now ploughing through, she says she’s still in awe of the reaction, and cannot wait to take the items to work.
“As a nurse, it’s so lovely to see the positive psychological impact the little covers have in making parents more comfortable, during a difficult time.”