When Jill Kingston got a call to pick up a baby at the hospital just five hours after getting her foster parent license, she had no idea what was about to ensue.
The baby had been withdrawing from heroin and was only three pounds. Within hours of bringing him home, he began vomiting violently and aspirating. Soon, he turned blue. Once the baby recovered from the episode, Kingston realized the baby was different than most – he had neonatal abstinence syndrome, also known as NAS.
NAS is when a baby is born drug-addicted, because the pregnant mother used drugs.
Having no experience or training in caring for drug-exposed babies, Kingston began her journey into what it means for a baby to have NAS. She said their care is unique, since they need to be fed in small increments to prevent spitting up and aspirating. These babies also need to have their diapers changed immediately due to the acidity of the drugs coming out of their system which can cause swelling.
And Kingston saw a community in need.
“I just felt that I needed to be doing something bigger with the issue now that I knew it was so big and prevalent in the area,” she said.
According the medical director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, 10 percent of the 800 babies admitted into the NICU in 2014 were withdrawal babies. Director Marc Belcastro said that number is expected to rise to 100 babies who suffer from NAS in 2015.
Gaining a research partner
Deanna Murphy had been praying one year before her son would go to kindergarten that God would show her where she should work. After meeting with Kingston and hearing about her passion for drug-addicted newborns, Murphy began to assist research about the possibilities to help these babies.
After visiting a nonprofit organization in West Virginia that cared for NAS babies, Kingston knew this is what they needed to do for the Dayton area. However, Murphy was unsure.
“I wasn’t really thinking I would help start a nonprofit business as part of what God was asking me to do,” she said.
“Looking back on my life, I have sort of been prepared to do it.”
Murphy grew up as the daughter of two addicts. Her mother used drugs while she was pregnant, and Murphy’s father was an alcoholic. Murphy struggled growing up without seeing much of her mom. But, she saw hope in recovery for her father after he became sober during her senior year at college.
“My heart really is for these families because I know what these babies will go through if these families are not given the opportunity to get sober,” Murphy said.
The two set out to make their vision of a center for moms and babies who are dealing with neonatal abstinence syndrome a reality.
Brigid’s Path is born
Naming the nonprofit wasn’t easy. But after some time, it was named Brigid’s Path after the patron saint of newborn babies, parents in turmoil and unwed parents. And path comes from Psalm 25:4 which says, “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.”
“We wanted our name to keep us accountable to our mission,” Kingston said. “And we wanted to have a name that we really felt was put on our hearts.”
Brigid’s Path will open its building in the heart of Kettering when its capital campaign is completed.
“A community crisis deserves a community response,” Murphy said. “We were really thrilled at the location of this building, so it (is not) somewhere that someone wouldn’t want to go, but that we are approachable.”
And the two want the mother and baby to feel comfortable at Brigid’s Path so they can spend as much time together as possible.
“Studies show that when a baby and a mother, regardless of what happened during pregnancy, are together, both of their chances of getting well quickly and maintaining wellness are increased when they are together,” Murphy said.
Brigid’s Path can hold up to 24 babies, with private rooms for mom and baby to be together. And the babies will receive more hands-on care there than the NICU. Brigid’s Path will employ social workers to help families with paperwork for programs including Medicaid, foster care and food stamps.
While in the middle of a capital campaign, Brigid’s Path is working with APP Architecture to design a building that is less stimulating for babies and also calming for families.
It has been accepting donations from the community for diapers, clothes, toys and furniture for when the building is finished.
NICU director Belcastro will be in charge of writing the medical protocols and guidelines for the babies’ care. He said he’s been wanting to find a new way to care for NAS babies.
“We have had such a problem over the past couple years with drug-addicted babies,” Belcastro said. “I have been wanting to find new, innovative ways to take care of them.”
When Belcastro heard of Brigid’s Path, he wanted to get involved immediately. Kingston and Murphy appointed him as the medical director of Brigid’s Path.
“One of the things that’s difficult, other than these babies needing to be treated with medication to overcome their dependency, is that they’re generally healthy babies that need to do the normal things that babies want to do,” Belcastro said. “Giving a lot of nurturing that the babies would need at home is a little bit more challenging at the hospital,” Belcastro said. “We’re hoping that Brigid’s Path creates more of a home environment.”
Brigid’s Path wants to maintain a nonjudgmental environment.
“These mothers, given the nature of their addictions, when they find out they’re pregnant, have options,” Murphy said. “They choose life for their babies, and we want to honor that heroic decision.”
Brigid’s Path will be the first nonprofit organization of its kind in Ohio and the second overall in the U.S.
“We really want to build a space that respects and honors the dignity that these families deserve,” Murphy said. “We want to turn this building into a place that creates a legacy for these babies and families.”
Emily Paul is a senior journalism major and a reporter for Cedars. She plays on the women’s tennis team and dreams of becoming a sports broadcaster.