When Jona Sager was pregnant with daughter Alicia, she was in a car accident and soon after Alicia’s birth, the newborn died. Sager never spent any time with her daughter to say goodbye.
“It did break my heart,” she told TODAY Parents. “Every memory I ever have of Alicia other than being pregnant is a memory of that (hospital) room. There is no memory of Alicia because I never saw her. "
That was 40 years ago. Now a nurse in the neonatal intensive care nurse (NICU) at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, Sager sees how kind and compassionate staff are to families who lose a baby. But she always hoped to do more.
“I just wanted to be able to give them something,” she said. “What I really wanted to do was create a home in a hospital room.”
Sager, along with some friends, founded the nonprofit Alicia’s Angels Inc. to raise money to turn her dream into a reality. The first room has just opened at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital; it feels like a nursery, not a sterile hospital room.
“We really want them to feel they are at home with their baby. They only have a tiny bit of time to create memories with their baby and those memories have to last a lifetime,” she explained. “It is very important to make it as peaceful and beautiful as possible.”
The room features a bed, a chair with an ottoman, a couch and a regular crib, not often seen in a NICU. Big widows allow natural light to bathe the room and blue and cream hues creates a serene feeling. Long curtains hide the medical equipment. The idea is to let families who have children who are dying use the room for as long as they need it. The room just opened so no one has used it yet, but already Sager has heard a lot of positive feedback from hospital employees.
“I hope that it means as much to the families as what we are hearing back from the staff members,” she said.
Dr. Mark Mercurio, chief of neonatal-perinatal medicine at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, said that allowing families to bond with their children who might never leave the hospital helps the parents after the loss of their children.
“It is profoundly important,” he told TODAY Parents. “To make it a little bit gentler is a wonderful gift.”
Sager continues raising money because she hopes that that Alicia’s Angels can build rooms like this in hospitals across the country.
“We would really like to be able to help as many families as we can in obviously the worst moments of their lives,” she said.