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Halloween is Treat Time for Parents of Preemies at Cedars-Sinai

In the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of the Maxine Dunitz Children's Health Center, parents and volunteers celebrate Halloween by dressing babies in handmade costumes

Los Angeles - Oct. 25, 2012 – What could have turned into a frightening story is now a cherished happy memory for Meran Joe Solamany. When his son, Keyon, was born eight weeks before his due date in the fall of 2011, he was immediately transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Cedars-Sinai's Maxine Dunitz Children's Health Center. He weighed just three pounds.

When Halloween came around, in what has become a Cedars-Sinai tradition, the Solamanys were offered a choice of handmade costumes for their tiny baby. They chose a tiger and still remember the feeling when nurses placed Keyon in the specially made costume.

"It just created a new atmosphere, a normal atmosphere", said Solamany, who like many parents of preemies was often physically separated from his son by a life-saving incubator and other machines. "For 18 hours a day, we were caught up in all the hospital and medical issues and this took our minds off the serious situation and made us feel normal."'

Charles F. Simmons Jr., MD, chair of the Cedars-Sinai Department of Pediatrics and director of Neonatology, says the costumes play an important role in the overall family experience at the Maxine Dunitz Children's Health Center. "It helps the family bond with the baby and see past the tubing and medicines and incubator,"' said Simmons, the Ruth and Harry Roman Chair in Neonatology in honor of Larry Baum.  "The families also feel how much they are supported and cared for by the Cedars-Sinai staff and volunteers."'

For Halloween 2012, volunteers and nurses have sewn more than 40 costumes for babies now being treated in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Cedars-Sinai's Maxine Dunitz Children's Health Center.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, parents will be able to choose from a variety of costumes including, pumpkins, butterflies, tigers, cows, and for the first time this year, the popular Dr. Seuss character, Lorax. The babies will be placed in their costumes and photographed with their parents. Linda Rosenberg, parent liaison in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, says for the parents, dressing up their babies "is a piece of levity when parents have been worried sick for days and days."'

The Halloween costuming was the brainchild of Dorothy Williams, a retired Cedars-Sinai employee who first began making tiny hats for the infants more than 15 years ago. The hats, says Dorothy, "helped make sure the holidays didn't get lost in the midst of caring for a critically ill baby."'

Today, Williams is the lead volunteer on the project, buying fabrics, coordinating the cutting and sewing, and doing much of the sewing herself. Costumes come in three sizes, up to two pounds, three-to-five pounds and five pounds and up. All are tailored to fit the needs of babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and for those too fragile to be touched, there are duck blankets and hats or pumpkin bibs.

When the babies go home from the hospital, families take the costumes home with them. Williams tells parents, "One day you can put this on a doll and show the children just how small they were."'

Solamany says thanks to Cedars-Sinai, Halloween is now his family's favorite holiday. His son, Keyon, is now13 months old, weighs a healthy 25 pounds and is home. They are still deciding on the right costume for him this year. But they will pull out last year's tiger ensemble to measure just how far they've come.