Big-Hearted Gifts for the Smallest Patients
November was decidedly not supposed to be Garrison Coonrod’s birth month: He was due in February, but apparently he just couldn’t wait to see the world.
Garrison was born weighing just 2 pounds, 5 ounces. A baby born at 27 weeks is not physically ready for life and faces a huge number of medical challenges, so Garrison was taken straight to the Level 4 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, where, over the next 70 days, the doctors and nurses provided every kind of state-of-the-art care.
Garrison spent all of his 70 days in the NICU in a Giraffe Omnibed, a highly specialized piece of equipment that serves as a sort of artificial womb and allows clinicians to provide extensive care to the baby without having to move the child—a critical consideration when the baby’s organs are extremely fragile. Four of these life-saving Omnibeds in Connecticut Children’s Hartford NICU were purchased with a gift made by donor Ross Mayer.
A Surprise Visit & Surprise Gift
The staff of Connecticut Children’s NICUs have to be ready to deal with anything on a moment’s notice, but even they were caught off guard when Mayer showed up unexpectedly one Tuesday afternoon to announce that he was making the largest donation in the NICU’s history. James Moore, MD, PhD, the Division Chief of Neonatology, was so overwhelmed by the unexpected gift and the scale of Mayer’s generosity that he wiped away tears. If the countless hugs given to Mayer were any indication, the rest of the staff felt the same way.
Mayer has been generously supporting the NICU since 1976, when it was based at Newington Children’s Hospital. But his connection to the NICU goes back even farther than that. When he graduated from college in 1970, he was drafted into the Army Reserve, where part of his assignment was visiting Newington Children’s Hospital twice each month. He got to know the children and the staff there, and it left a deep impression on him, an impression that was deepened even more through personal tragedy.
A Lasting Tribute
Mayer’s first child, Spencer David, was born with severe complications and died in the NICU eight days later. Ross recalls that he and his son communicated on the seventh day, when he rolled over and grabbed his father’s pinky. “That touch was his way of telling me to turn his tragedy into hope for other babies to live normal lives,” he said.
Mayer’s extraordinary gift is in the form of an endowment, which will be doubled through Connecticut Children’s “Perfect Match” gift-matching program, making it even more significant. As an endowment, the money will be invested, perpetually generating resources for the NICU. The fund’s annual award is available to the Division Chief of the NICU to benefit the babies in their care —babies like Garrison, who today is almost 2 and is as happy and healthy as any parent could wish.
The heroic effort put into saving Garrison’s life goes on every day in Connecticut Children’s two NICUs, and it is why Mayer showed up at the Hartford NICU to surprise everyone with his announcement. But Mayer did not just bring news of his gift. He also had a gift for Dr. Moore. When the first child was placed in the first Omnibed, the nurses put the baby’s footprints on a piece of paper and framed it for Mayer as a way of thanking him for his gift. He was so touched by that gesture that he wanted to return the favor.
So, when Mayer arrived in the NICU to make his surprise announcement, he brought a similar framed print of his own hand and gave it to Dr. Moore for his office.
“Ross’ gift will touch babies in our NICU for many years to come,” Dr. Moore said. “His gift will advance research and teaching to improve clinical care and outcomes. My staff and I were so moved by his generosity that a member of our team took out her checkbook and added her own donation to the Ross Mayer Fund. We are proud of the trust and faith he has put in Connecticut Children’s, and we look forward to showing him how he is improving the lives of babies and learning more about our changes and discoveries when we have him down to visit each year.”