Mom's Simple Invention Works Wonders In The NICU

by Megan Zander
Originally Published: 

Mom invents the Zaky — a bead-filled glove that mimics a parent’s touch for NICU babies

In 2001 Yamile Jackson went into premature labor due to severe preeclampsia. She delivered her son Zachary twelve weeks before his due date. He weighed less than two pounds and spent 155 days in the NICU. While she spent hours each day with her son, Jackson hated leaving him at night.

A PhD in both ergonomics and human factors engineering, she wondered if there was a way to make her son think she was with him even when she wasn’t. Jackson created a bean-filled gardening glove that she tucked against her son every night. She would cuddle with the glove during the day so it had her scent, and leave it with him while she was gone, thinking that the glove would mimic the smell, warmth and feel of her being there.

During Zachary’s time in the NICU Jackson thought about how she wanted to do more to help him and other preemie babies. Soon after Zachary was discharged from the hospital, Jackson got a call from one of the NICU nurses. “You know those little gloves that you made for Zack?” the nurse asked, “Can you make them for the rest of the unit?”

The nurses had realized how comforted Zachary seemed by the gloves his mother made for him, and wanted to try them on the other NICU babies. Jackson made 100 gloves for the hospital and set out to do research to see how the gloves could best help preemies, eventually forming the company Nurtured by Design. She was even awarded a grant from Oprah to help grow her project.

All kids learn their ABCs, but preemie parents learn about the As and Bs first — as in apnea and bradycardia. These spells usually happen together, along with low blood oxygen levels. First, your baby stops breathing (that’s the apnea). That lowers their blood oxygen levels, which slows down their heart (that’s the bradycardia). It’s been over three years since my own twin boys graduated from the NICU and I can still hear the alarm bells like it’s happening in front of me all over again. It’s a horrible thing to experience as as a parent, but the Zaky can help. The gloves do more than just comfort preemie babies who are separated from their parents. By mimicking the feel of a parent’s touch they can actually assist a preemie in self-regulating their breathing and cut down on these episodes.

A 2011 independent clinical research project by Georgia College examined 28-34 week preemies, some who had nothing with them in their isolettes, some who had Zakys, and some who had Zakys that had been scented by mom. The babies who had an unscented Zaky tucked around them had about a third less As and Bs breathing episodes than the babies who had nothing with them. The babies who had a Zaky that had been scented by mom had no breathing episodes at all. If only we had a Zaky when my kids were in the NICU, maybe we wouldn’t have had so many calls alerting us to breathing episodes.

Also awesome? If your hospital doesn’t use the Zaky and you buy one for your baby while they’re in the NICU, you can request your hospital code and Nurtured by Design with gift your hospital with a free Zaky on behalf of the original Zachary. He may be 15 now, but he’s still known as the company’s CIO as in chief inspiration officer.

I’m not crying, you’re crying.

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