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Premature baby born in New Lenox is ambassador for Sunday’s Orland Park March of Dimes walk

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Although she’s just a baby, Nyla Haywood, of Joliet, has a big job this weekend: She’s the ambassador for Sunday’s March of Dimes March for Babies at Centennial Park in Orland Park.

Nyla has come a long way since she was born at 22 weeks at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. Weighing just 1 pound, 2 ounces at her birth in November, she spent 117 days in the neonatal intensive care unit before being discharged May 13.

“She’s doing amazing,” her mother, NaKeya Haywood, said a day after Nyla had a doctor’s appointment, noting her little girl is up to 11 pounds, 6 ounces. “She’s still on oxygen and will be on it until the end of June. We’ll see her pulmonologist then and decide if we’re weaning or what that plan might be.”

Haywood is thrilled that Nyla is an ambassador for March of Dimes.

“It’s a story that needs to be told. In the climate that we’re in now, we don’t have too many good things,” Haywood said. “There are moms who go through this every day that we don’t necessarily talk about.”

On the day of the walk, the family will be introduced and Haywood will share their story. It’s one that likely is familiar to those who have a premature baby.

While pregnant, Haywood developed high blood pressure, a condition that can be serious for both mother and baby. A team delivered Nyla Nov. 7, months before her due date of April 19, and she went right to the neonatal intensive care unit, which opened in August 2022.

“I would definitely say one of the things that kept me sane, to say the least, was our faith in God. It’s a situation that no one thinks they’ll be in, but to say that this isn’t in my hands,” Haywood said.

“The NICU staff is essentially family now. Whenever I had questions or had concerns, they were willing to answer questions,” she said. “They’re part of our heart. The staff wrap their hands around us and let us know everything is going to be OK.”

Peggy Farrell, director of the neonatal intensive care unit at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, holds Nyla Haywood as parents Cory and NaKeya Haywood, of Joliet, stand with Dr. Cristina Baumker, a neonatologist. (Silver Cross Hospital)

Although Nyla is doing well, she’s on oxygen as well as a pulse oximeter, which monitors her oxygen rate and her heart rate and is clipped onto her wrist or foot.

“She’s kind of used to being hooked up to things, so it’s not a headache for her,” Haywood said.

Nyla gets a lot of her food through a bottle, but also has a feeding tube because of issues with her lungs, she said.

Nyla had laser surgery on her eyes in January at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, to zap blood vessels that grow abnormally because of the oxygen.

“Premature babies have a higher rate of retinas detaching,” Haywood said.

On the day of the walk, the team of people behind the family will be on full display, thanks to baby girl pink T-shirts that read “Nyla’s Nation.”

“I think it’s so cute and it definitely is a testament to what it took to get her to where we are now. It wasn’t just one entity,” Haywood said. “She’s got occupational therapy, speech therapy, she went to Lurie’s Children’s Hospital downtown. It’s not just Silver Cross that had a hand in how she got here and how well she’s doing.”

Peggy Farrell, director of the Amy, Matthew & Jay Vana NICU at Silver Cross, came up with the slogan.

“I coined the phrase ‘Nyla’s Nation,’ and that will be our team, because it took a nation to care for her,” Farrell said. “More people are interested in doing this walk because now we have this connection.”

Cory and NaKeya Haywood celebrate Nyla leaving Silver Cross Hospital with members of "Nyla's Nation," the people who helped care for her. (Silver Cross Hospital)

Silver Cross Hospital

Cory and NaKeya Haywood celebrate Nyla leaving Silver Cross Hospital with members of “Nyla’s Nation,” the people who helped care for her. (Silver Cross Hospital)

Farrell, who marks her 40th anniversary as a nurse this month, is no stranger to March of Dimes walks. At her previous job for a hospital system in Florida, she grew the walk from five participants to hundreds. Just months after she arrived at Silver Cross, she called the Chicago area organization and asked if it had an ambassador for the next walk in Orland Park.

When Nyla arrived, Farrell knew she could be the ambassador. She said the baby was “blessed” with her parents.

“They really go with the flow. It makes a big difference,” she said.

Farrell also praised the first-time mom, saying she didn’t miss a beat despite all the challenges.

The Silver Cross team has grown from five people last year to more than 70 this year, with many saying their family members will walk as well.

“It’s a mix of colleagues, the community, as well as other NICU families who have joined our team,” Farrell said.

She said about 10% of babies born at hospitals, including Silver Cross, end up in the NICU.

The team is still accepting more members and donations. Registration starts at 8 a.m. and the event begins at 9. The walk steps off at centennial Ball Field 9, 15600 West Ave., Orland Park, near the purple balloons. Sign up online at www.marchforbabies.org and find the Silver Cross team.

The team goal is to raise $3,000 for March of Dimes, which began in 1938 to fight polio. The nonprofit organization is “committed to ending preventable maternal health risks and death, ending preventable preterm birth and infant death and closing the health equity gap for all families,” according to its website.

“I’m really all about bettering the outcome for moms and babies,” Farrell said, describing both her career and her passion for the walk.

She said March of Dimes does research, offers support for different services and technology, and provides resources to new families.

“On their website, they have resources for health care workers but also resources for the families,” she said.

Having an ambassador is an important way to spread the word about March of Dimes’ mission, said Lauren Scheibe, director of donor development.

“Ambassadors play a vital role in promoting the organization’s mission to give every baby the best possible start,” Scheibe said.

Ambassador families attend meetings as well as special events and fundraising activities to share their story.

“We know the road Nyla, NaKeya and Cory were just on was not an easy one, and we are very grateful they have been willing to share their story and journey with us while still in the middle of their journey,” she said.

Melinda Moore is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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