- Associated Press - Saturday, April 29, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Pediatric neurologist Mandy Harris devoted her all-too-brief medical career to doing what she could to save the tiniest, sickest babies in the neonatal intensive care unit at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

When Harris died last month at the age of 41 from complications of diabetes, colleagues who worked alongside her looked for a way to honor the beloved pediatrician.

They knew other hospitals give their littlest babies crocheted stuffed “octopuses.” The preemies clutch the soft arms in a way that is reminiscent of what they do in utero with their own umbilical cords.

But Riley’s NICU does not allow its newborns to have stuffed animals in cribs because they can pose a suffocation risk. Even teddy bears are flat.

So neurodiagnostic specialist Tina Miller, a skilled crocheter, fiddled with the octopus concept and devised a pattern for a flat-headed octopus, which she realized resembled another sea creature.

“Without the stuffing, they look more like a jellyfish than an octopus,” Miller said. “When I saw this, my heart just went, ‘Oh my goodness, this would be so great.’”

Thus was born Jelly Buddies 4 Mandy, an initiative to craft at least 700 of the multi-colored jellyfish to give to babies in Riley’s NICU. The number 700 refers to the number of babies that Harris‘ family told Miller and Celeste Merz that Harris had saved during her time at Riley.

Under Harris‘ guidance, Riley Hospital became one of the first to set up a program to monitor babies at risk of developing brain trouble. The idea was to catch problems as soon as possible, allowing doctors to intervene and hopefully ward off more drastic complications.

Harris was more than a caring, consummate clinician, her former coworkers say. She was also a wonderful person.

“Amazing is an understatement,” Miller said. “She was down to earth, very involved and hands on. She was hands on with the babies, hands on with her techs. She kept in touch with us and let us know what was going on with the babies.”

Research on the octopus project has shown that babies who wrap their small fingers around one of the yarn creations are calmer.

Miller and Merz want to be able to give every Riley baby who needs assistance with breathing a “jellyfish” to soothe them while on a machine. Once the infant progresses to breathing on his or her own, the jellyfish will become keepsake items.

The two have no doubts they will reach 700 - and quickly. Once that happens, they plan to keep going, as long as there are babies who can benefit.

A Facebook group they created just a few weeks ago to spur interest in the project has 650 members, including some of Harris‘ patients’ families, who have shared stories about her. Anyone can participate or donate materials for others to use.

Already, Miller, Merz and a third colleague have crafted about 20 jellyfish. Each critter takes about two hours to crochet.

Harris‘ bereaved family also plans to participate. Her young daughter recently purchased some yarn and plans to learn how to crochet, Merz said.

In a sign that Miller and Merz hit on the right project to honor Harris, they learned that before she died, she had also been talking to hospital officials about how they could introduce a flat-headed version of the octopus to the newborns in Riley’s NICU.

Now the jellyfish created in her memory have solved that problem.he two have no doubts they will reach 700 - and quickly. Once that happens, they plan to keep going, as long as there are babies who can benefit.

A Facebook group they created just a few weeks ago to spur interest in the project has 650 members, including some of Harris‘ patients’ families, who have shared stories about her. Anyone can participate or donate materials for others to use.

Already, Miller, Merz and a third colleague have crafted about 20 jellyfish. Each critter takes about two hours to crochet.

Harris‘ bereaved family also plans to participate. Her young daughter recently purchased some yarn and plans to learn how to crochet, Merz said.

In a sign that Miller and Merz hit on the right project to honor Harris, they learned that before she died, she had also been talking to hospital officials about how they could introduce a flat-headed version of the octopus to the newborns in Riley’s NICU.

Now the jellyfish created in her memory have solved that problem.

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Source: Indianapolis Star, https://indy.st/2pXXEa9

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com


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