Local couple donates $100,000 to help fund new program for NAS babies

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Oct 31, 2017 at 8:58 PM

In the midst of the region’s opioid crisis, many infants have been born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, experiencing withdrawal from drugs used by their mothers before giving birth.

Because of this growing crisis, Mountain States Health Alliance has been working to introduce and expand new programs to help infants born with NAS at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.

At the kickoff of this year’s Niswonger Children’s Hospital Radiothon fundraiser, Michael and Nancy Christian of Johnson City felt moved to donate $100,000 to the Families Thrive Program, designed to help children suffering from NAS by encouraging good practices for infant care and providing support for families after they leave the hospital.

Michael Christian, who serves on the Mountain States board of directors, said he and his wife were motivated to donate after seeing videos of children suffering from the tremors and convulsions caused by NAS.

“We identified these poor, helpless, innocent babies as the cause we wanted to try to support,” Michael Christian said. “I can’t think of a worse way to come into the world, and I choke up sometimes when I try to talk about it. It’s just heartbreaking.

“We both hope that it turns out to be the best investment that we’ve ever made or will make.”

Mountain States Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer Tony Keck said the new program was designed to specifically address the needs of infants with NAS after they receive treatment at the neonatal unit.

“We are learning more and more that it isn’t all about the medical services,” Keck said.

Medical treatments for infants with NAS are just the beginning of the battle, Keck said. Once infants leave the neonatal unit, Keck said it is important to help mothers maintain positive health habits and meet their needs.

“While we’re in the hospital with the mother and the babies, we will be able to work with the mother and their children to help encourage good practices for infant care, such as breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact,” he said. “These are things that really make a difference for the children in the hospital.

“While they’re in the hospital, we will be able to connect them to all of the support services that they’re going to need once they leave the hospital. That might be housing support, it might be addiction recovery support, that might be food support. There’s a whole set of services that go beyond health care that are really important for these families and children to thrive. This program is going to help us do that.”

Keck said he hopes the Christians’ donation and the introduction of the new program will inspire other members of the community to help with the efforts at Niswonger. In two years, he said they hope to expand the program with the help of people like the Christians.

For more information on the Radiothon and the Families Thrive program, visit www.niswongerchildrensradiothon.com or www.niswongerchildrens.org.

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