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Vulnerable Micro-Preemie Given Second Chance at Life Thanks to Volunteers’ Gift of Touch

January 18, 2019 – Five incredible California women were recognized this week for the almost 600 hours they volunteered to give one micro-preemie the gift of touch she needed to survive, develop and grow during the most important weeks of her life.

Born addicted, premature at only 24 weeks and with her eyes fused shut, Skai weighed just over a single pound. Skai was transferred to the more comprehensive Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, California. After a few weeks, parental rights were relinquished and without family to step in and provide the human touch premature infants need to continue developing and growing, her chances for survival were poor.

That’s when five fairy godmothers appeared. To help stimulate Skai's growth, four El Camino Hospital employees and one hospital volunteer, gave their personal time to provide modified skin-to-skin contact for at least two hours a day, seven days a week for six weeks. They never missed a day.

“This was a tremendous effort by these volunteers to help Skai thrive and grow,” says Jody Charles, clinical manager of NICU at El Camino Hospital’s Mountain View campus. “In the beginning, Skai was so tiny and fragile it took four NICU staff members to safely remove her from the incubator and place her on the cuddler for modified skin-to-skin contact.”

The “cuddlers” or volunteers were Suann Schutt, Denise Robb, Ashlee Fontenot, Holly Holland and Susan Bukunt. All were reunited with Skai for a celebration this week as the El Camino Hospital Board of Directors honored the volunteers and her care team. Skai's parents, Lisa Cotterall and Tina Pendleton, who adopted Skai in late 2018, believe this cuddling by the volunteers saved Skai's life. Lisa and Tina are active foster parents and have been a part of Skai's life since October 2017, while she was still in the NICU. According to the couple, shortly after the volunteers started the daily ritual, Skai began to thrive and made marked improvements.

Today, Skai, named for “the sky is the limit,” is a healthy and happy 15-month old toddler.

“To volunteer their personal time - almost 600 hours among them - on top of work and their own family commitments, makes these ladies Skai's true fairy godmothers,” said Lisa Cotterall. “They are the reason she’s here today, and I hope each and every one of them know and feel our gratitude.”