Octopus dolls help comfort hospital's smallest patients

Volunteers crochet the dolls for NICU patients at Carilion Roanoke Memorial

By Brittny McGraw - Anchor

ROANOKE, Va. - Small dolls that look like toys, but are actually therapy tools, are helping comfort one local hospital's smallest patients.

Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital is a part of the "Octopus for a Preemie-US" program, in which volunteers crochet small octopus dolls for the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit babies. Crocheters across the country create the octopus dolls for hospitals nationwide. Janet Schofield, who loves to crochet, serves as the local ambassador for the program.

"Originally, my niece posted a video on Facebook to me. She copied me on it," Schofield said. "Everyone knows I love to crochet and I was looking for something to get involved in and when I watched the video it stole my heart."

The dolls help to comfort the newborns.

"They actually help keep their vital signs stable and they provide something for the baby to hold onto with the octopus tentacles, which reminds them of the umbilical cord that they held onto in the womb," said Kim Ramsey, a neonatal clinical nurse specialist at Carilion Roanoke Memorial.

Ramsey said the dolls may be comforting to their parents, too.

"The parents love them, too, because it's something that they can give their baby and it can be there for them while they're not here at the bedside," Ramsey said.

As an ambassador, Schofield collects the dolls and thoroughly inspects them. Each doll must meet stringent safety guidelines concerning its stitching and the length of the doll's tentacles. It's then washed and dried twice before being delivered to a hospital's NICU.

Schofield's daughter, Heather Bracey, delivers the dolls to the NICU. Bracey is a registered nurse on the hospital's mother and baby floor.

"I think it's amazing," Bracey said of the volunteer work her mother is doing.

Carilion Roanoke Memorial receives a new delivery of dolls about once a month, and Schofield said it's hard to express how fulfilling this volunteer work is.

"On every level, it's just satisfying to make a difference," Schofield said.

Click here to learn more about the "Octopus for a Preemie -US" program and how to get involved.

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