The exemplary care delivered at Akron Children’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) has been supported by an important group of people: donors. Many of these generous supporters are former patient families. Here are just a few that Akron Children’s is honored to recognize as the hospital celebrates the NICU’s 50th anniversary.
J.P. and Judie Delaney
When any family has a baby, it’s an exciting time. But when that new baby needs care at the NICU, it’s a whole different world.
In 2001, J.P. and Judie Delaney experienced this firsthand when their twin sons, Patrick and Jack, were born 10 weeks early. Describing the first few days as a “whirlwind,” the first-time parents soon found themselves and their sons in Akron Children’s NICU.
“You’re in this situation and don’t know where to turn. It’s frightening,” said J.P. “But the training, support and love we received from the entire NICU team was amazing. We always felt that everyone was giving 110%, and the rest was in God’s hands.”
“There were so many people involved 24 hours a day in the care of our children,” said Judie. “We saw everyone from doctors and nurses to therapists, social workers and chaplains. You start to develop relationships with them as they work together to give your babies the best outcome.”
Patrick was in the NICU for eight weeks before coming home. But sadly, Jack passed away after spending 7 months at Akron Children’s. In his honor, the Delaneys established the Baby Jack Delaney Memorial Fund to benefit the NICU.
They also began supporting the hospital in other ways. J.P. served two terms on the Foundation board of directors, after which he served on the hospital board of directors until 2019. Judie is currently enjoying her fourth year on the Women’s Board of Akron Children’s. The couple also continues to support fundraisers like Walk for Babies, Charity Ball and Celebrate the Plate.
When the hospital opened the new NICU in the Kay Jewelers Pavilion in 2015, J.P. said it was a momentous occasion for them and the hospital, as their family received care in the former open-bay unit.
“The expansion and changes that are in the new NICU are amazing,” he said. “The families there now could be in a dire situation, but it’s got to be so helpful for their attitudes to look out the window and appreciate the amenities they have. It helps make the time spent there more palatable.”
“We’re proud of the fact that Akron Children’s has remained an independent hospital and it’s right here in our backyard,” said Judie. “We’re blessed to have an institution like it in our own community; it’s special.”
Dale and Sandi Freygang
In August 1981, Dale and Sandi were getting ready to welcome their first baby, a little boy, on Nov. 1.
But to everyone’s surprise, Sandi went into labor on Aug. 23. And the surprises continued when their twin daughters arrived.
“We never knew,” said Sandi. “When I was in labor, they tried to do an ultrasound, which wasn’t commonly done in the early 80s unless there were complications. And they said that they were seeing too many body parts!”
Jen and Nicki were born at 2 pounds 12 ounces and 2 pounds 13 ounces respectively. The girls were immediately transferred to Akron Children’s NICU. While Nicki’s breathing was stable, she was born with severe positional clubfoot. Jen needed to be placed on a respirator and also suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.
“They couldn’t tell us the long-term effects of either of these conditions,” said Dale. “We were in a wait-and-see situation.”
For the next two months, Sandi would drop Dale off at B.F. Goodrich for work and she’d spend her days at the NICU, where both she and Dale got to know the physicians and staff very well. The girls’ health greatly improved, and by mid-October, they came home within days of each other.
“Had it not been for the NICU, its advanced technologies and it being right in our backyard, I don’t know what the outcome would have been for our children,” said Sandi. “They truly saved them.”
The Freygangs remained in close contact with the hospital. They helped plan the first-ever NICU reunion in 1982. They were asked to be on the founding board of the Ronald McDonald House of Akron, which was built right next door to the hospital.
And the same year that their daughters were born, Dale and Sandi made their first gift to the hospital and the NICU through the Walter Henry Freygang Foundation, Dale’s family foundation named after his great uncle.
“It’s been 39 years since that first gift, and we’re proud and honored to have given to Akron Children’s every year since, with a portion of that donation going to the NICU,” said Dale. “We believe in the institution. We know that our gifts to the hospital and the NICU are being used in the best way possible.”
Today, the girls are grown and mothers themselves. And as they reflect on their journey, Dale and Sandi are thankful for the relationship they’ve built with the hospital.
“We have two beautiful daughters that remind us every day how fortunate we were to have Akron Children’s NICU,” said Sandi. “When people say that Akron Children’s becomes part of your family, it’s true. They’re always there to help. We’re just so indebted, grateful and appreciative to Akron Children’s for what they’ve given to us.”
Matt and Lisa Kaulig
For Matt and Lisa, there’s no greater joy than watching their 13-year-old daughter, Samantha, blossom.
The 7th grader loves dance, especially tap. She’s the picture of health. The only indication of any kind of medical history is a tiny wheezing sound she can make when she laughs.
“She gets a kick out of it,” said Lisa. “She can pretty much do it on demand and thinks it’s hilarious.”
Thirteen years ago, Matt and Lisa weren’t sure what the future would hold. Lisa was full-term when she needed an emergency C-section to deliver Samantha. When Samantha was born, they discovered that her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck twice.
After Samantha’s health didn’t improve, doctors discovered that she had tracheoesophageal fistula, a condition where the connection between the esophagus and trachea isn’t formed properly. All of Samantha’s feedings were going straight from her esophagus into her lungs. She also had congenital tracheomalacia, where her windpipe was flexible rather than fixed and rigid.
“They took her to Akron Children’s right away and had emergency surgery. She was only 2 days old,” said Matt. “Dr. Crow was her surgeon, and he was incredible. When the procedure was done, she went to the NICU.”
During the Kauligs’ time in the unit, they were “blown away” by the level of care and support not only their daughter received, but other NICU patients, as well.
“We were in the NICU when it was still an open unit, so there were about eight babies in one room,” explained Matt. “The skill level and calm of those nurses as they were doing such critical things like helping a baby breathe again was absolutely amazing to watch.”
“We were in the hands of people who understand that your baby is an extension of you, your heart,” said Lisa. “They honor it and do all they can to give your child the best treatment possible.”
Nine days after her admission, Samantha was healthy enough to come home. And since that day, Matt and Lisa have been strong supporters of the hospital and NICU.
Lisa’s friend, Shelby Snellenberger, told her about the Walk for Babies fundraiser, and the Kauligs immediately joined in, participating in the annual event for the past 12 years. Matt and Lisa also have helped raise funds for ventilators and other equipment.
“What makes the NICU so special is that they’re getting babies and parents when they’re most vulnerable,” said Lisa. “It’s such a fragile time for not only the baby, but the parents who just had a child and aren’t getting to take them home. Because of that fragility, the NICU is such an important place to feel like you and your baby are safe in that interim period to come home. But you’re in good hands there. They’re the best of the best. ”
“It’s such an amazingly run organization,” said Matt. “We’re thankful to have such a great children’s hospital and NICU right here in Akron. It’s why we support the hospital so much.”
Dale and Peggy Koblenzer and Katie and Harrison Orendorf
Connor and Grant Orendorf are a wildly fun and active duo.
The 4-year-old twin brothers love sports, playing tennis, swimming and hitting golf balls. They go to preschool and just enjoy being with each other. They’re also graduates of Akron Children’s NICU.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the support, love and community that’s at the NICU,” said Katie Orendorf, Connor and Grant’s mom.
“We’re very lucky parents,” added Harrison Orendorf. “They’re doing great.”
On July 26, 2016, Katie woke up with sharp pains thinking she had pulled her back out golfing the day before. She went to Cleveland Clinic Akron General, only to find out that it wasn’t a sports injury. She was going into labor ‒ at 26 weeks pregnant. Plans to give her a shot to stop labor were abandoned when Katie’s placenta ruptured. Her obstetrician immediately called an emergency.
Less than 10 minutes later, Connor was born at 2 lb. 5 oz. Grant followed a few minutes later at 1 lb. 15 oz. The brothers were immediately transferred to the NICU at Akron Children’s.
It was the beginning of a long journey for the entire family. During the first few days, Connor developed a grade three bilateral brain bleed. And Grant’s lungs were not well developed, meaning he needed to be on a ventilator for a long period of time.
For Katie’s parents, Dale and Peggy Koblenzer, it was a challenging experience to watch.
“We felt so helpless,” said Peggy. “As grandparents you worry about your own children and your grandchildren. But the NICU staff supported everyone, including Katie and Harrison, in unbelievable ways.”
During the next weeks and months, the Orendorfs and the Koblenzers developed strong relationships with the NICU staff, especially the nurses. They appreciated their continuous positive attitudes, as well as the fact that everyone went above and beyond their job duties every day. They also valued the time that the medical staff took to explain what was happening with their children and talk through outcomes ‒ good or bad.
“It was nice knowing that someone you really trust is there with your kids when you can’t be there,” said Harrison.
Over time, the boys’ health improved.
“We went from total fear to hope to the reality that we have two little grandsons that are happy and healthy,” said Dale.
Connor spent 83 days in the NICU. Grant spent 232 days. When the pair had their first birthday party, NICU staff members were there celebrating with Katie and Harrison’s family and friends.
After watching NICU staff take care of their children and grandchildren, the Koblenzers and the Orendorfs wanted to say thank you by giving back. Dale and Peggy began to make gifts to support the NICU, even funding a nursing scholarship for continuing education.
“It’s the least we could do,” said Peggy. “The NICU is a place where miracles can happen.”
Katie and Harrison became involved in Walk for Babies, with Katie serving on the event’s committee.
“The NICU changed our lives,” said Katie. “To maintain the exceptional care it delivers, to keep good people there, and to provide the training and technology its staff needs, it takes our financial support.”
“The services provided by a NICU for medically challenged babies takes an extreme amount of sophisticated equipment, a great number of staff and a large amount of support,” added Dale. “When you give, you can change a child’s life. Your support can make that happen.”
If you would like to support the Akron Children’s NICU please visit www.akronchildrens.org/donate and direct your gift to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Fund