Books brings comfort to parents, babies in Netcare’s neonatal and other intensive care units

Archie Hein in hospital. Picture: Supplied

Archie Hein in hospital. Picture: Supplied

Published Sep 18, 2023


Pretoria - A remarkable family’s determination to bring comfort to others following their own devastating loss is helping overwhelmed parents in Netcare’s neonatal and other intensive care units to connect with their babies through the gift of purposeful reading.

Archie’s Archives is an initiative founded by the Hein family that provides parents whose babies and toddlers are admitted for intensive care with a pack of books that have been lovingly selected and donated by volunteers for them to read to their little ones and to take home.

“Research shows that the sound of a parent’s voice is not only very reassuring to a baby but has enormous cognitive benefits. Archie’s Archives is a tangible way of ensuring that families are empowered to contribute to the care that their babies receive while hospitalised,” said Verena Bolton, a neonatal nurse at Netcare Ncelisa human milk banks.

She added that the group is grateful to the Hein family for installing Archie’s Archives in the neonatal intensive care units and cardio-thoracic intensive care units in the hospitals. These standalone archives are cleverly designed to maintain the strictest hygiene standards and do not act as a shared library but rather a stock of pre-packed, sealed bundles of gifted books to help encourage parents to read to their little ones, enhancing connection and bonding during this time.

Tiffini Hein, co-founder of Archie’s Archives, explained that the initiative was born out of her and her husband Richard’s experience with their baby boy, Archie. He was diagnosed with neonatal Marfan syndrome – a rare connective tissue disorder, which tragically resulted in the loss of his life within a matter of months.

“Archie was born on August 16, 2022, at 37 weeks. As an already experienced mother of five children – two of whom are biological – I could immediately sense by the energy in the delivery room that something was not quite right. He was taken straight to the neonatal intensive care units, where intensive investigations into what could be impacting his health started.”

The mother said that on the ninth day, Archie was transferred to Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, where there is a dedicated paediatric cardio-thoracic intensive care unit, and two days later, his CT scan revealed a dissection in his aorta. Nothing more could be done.

Tiffini noted that, at this point, they had been unable to even hold their son because of his fragile condition, and they spent the next two days crying next to Archie’s cot.

“We were in the grips of grief when Richard said that enough was enough – we could not allow Archie’s experience of the world to be two sad people in a hospital, so to pull ourselves out of it, we began reading to Archie.”

She said through the books, they could step into their own little world inside that ICU. It provided us with enormous comfort. It was a wonderful bonding experience and a great distraction from the stressors around us,” she said.

Bolton said that the neonatal intensive care units setting can be overwhelming for parents who are not able to participate in the care of their baby as they normally would and that reading is a powerful way to connect.

“Reading to their baby can give parents a sense of purpose in this challenging time. For babies, hearing their mom and dad’s voices is reassuring. Research indicates that by listening to their parents’ voices, babies display more stable breathing and heart rates, as well as better feeding and growth.”

Bolton added that by providing babies with language nutrition – which essentially refers to feeding a baby’s growing brain through language exposure – is also strongly associated with better neuro-developmental outcomes and future literacy.

“The earlier a newborn is exposed to reading, the greater the benefit,” she said.

As a large foster family and founders of the Maletsatsi Foundation, the Heins had taken in and parented more than 100 newborns with nowhere else to go, helping many biological families in difficult circumstances to get back on their feet while other babies have gone on to be adopted and find new homes.

During this time, the couple had cared for several newborns with cardiac conditions and had taken in babies who needed palliative care, nursing them to the end of life.

“It’s strange how things turn out. We could never have known it, but all that experience prepared us for what we would one day go through with Archie. We wanted to take him home as soon as possible and let him live out his life, however long or short, in peace among his family.”

Tiffini added that the reading continued when they got home and was an ongoing source of comfort and connection between them.

“Weeks went by, and Archie just kept going until eventually, at the age of three months, he passed on – it was utterly peaceful, as if the Universe had stopped for that moment.

“At his funeral, we asked people to bring books instead of flowers. It is our great wish that out of this enormous loss we could create something special for the many other parents who were struggling with little ones in a neonatal ICU.”

Months later, Netcare Sunninghill Hospital welcomed the pilot project for Archie’s Archives, with one placed in the neonatal intensive care units and one in the cardio-thoracic unit. On the back of this, five other Netcare hospitals have received units, and requests are continuing to come in for more.

Pretoria News