Parents often feel helpless when their child is born prematurely and placed in the neonatal intensive care unit at Albany Medical Center Hospital.
They generally can’t touch the baby, especially those born weighing just over a pound like Cameron Jace Quartiers in February 2009.
“I struggled with what my role was for him,” said Sara Quartiers, Cameron’s mother, a special education teacher in the South Glens Falls Central School District.
The highly skilled doctors and nurses in the NICU were doing all the care for Cameron.
“All of that is taken from you,” she said. “So I pulled up a chair and just started reading to him.”
Quartiers found that reading a children’s story to her premature baby was good for her and the baby.
“It’s a bonding thing,” Quartiers said. “When they are very little it’s more for the parents at first, but slowly becomes beneficial to both.”
When she first started to read to Cameron, his eyes weren’t even open. As she and her husband, Jason, and their then 2-year-old daughter, Schuyler, visited Cameron in the NICU every day last winter and spring, the baby responded more and more to the reading.
He especially loved to hear “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” and “Stella Luna.” Schuyler told him what parts she liked the best in those books.
When Cameron was seven months old, “His eyes would get wide and he’d smile,” Quartiers said. “He would lay his hand across my mouth.”
Cameron often overcame health challenges that doctors felt were all but insurmountable. And, despite enormous odds against him, his parents were finally able to bring him to their Glens Falls home and care for him there for a time before he had to be returned to the hospital.
Cameron lost his battle for life in October 2009, succumbing to complications from being born 16 weeks premature.
Both parents received great satisfaction from the bond they developed with Cameron through reading children’s stories.
“We knew we had to share his story,” Sara Quartiers said.
She said the baby’s courage, his demeanor, “his response to everything” was so positive and amazing to them.
This is how Project: Cameron’s Story came to be. The not-for-profit foundation solicits donations of new children’s books that are given to parents of premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Quartiers said each year 850 babies are admitted to the NICU at Albany Medical Center Hospital.
So the foundation (see www.projectcameronsstory.com) set a goal this year of 850 new children’s books.
During their Bookraiser event on Feb. 16 (Cameron’s birthday), they received donations of more than 700 new children’s books.
Quartiers said the largest donation of books came from purchases made at the Barnes & Noble store in Niskayuna, where many of the NICU nurses shop.
“The nurses were very much behind [reading to babies]. They were some of our biggest supporters,” Quartiers said.
The other store where many donors purchased children’s books was “The Dog Ate My Homework” store in Glens Falls.
Quartiers said the idea is to have a brand-new children’s book waiting for the parents of a premature baby when they come into the NICU to see their baby for the first time.
Picture books are usually recommended for infants. However, in Project: Cameron’s Story, the organizers suggest picture books with long story lines attached to them, lots of words the parents can read to their baby.
Quartiers said that she and her husband are overwhelmed and thankful for the response the program received. They are going to make the coordinated Book Raising Day an annual event with a goal of 850 books each year.
People can still donate new children’s books to the project. The Quartiers work with the March of Dimes. They bring the new books to the March of Dimes offices on Wolf Road in Colonie and the March of Dimes people deliver the books to Albany Medical Center.