Student Kimberly Gooden helps families cope with the birth of a premature baby

Kimberly Gooden at South Miami Hospital with her preemie project

When a 2.9 pound Kimberly Gooden was born into the neonatal unit (NICU) at South Miami Hospital at 28 weeks gestation, there was no telling that her destiny would bring her back to the care of the doctors and nurses who kept her healthy for her initial nine week stay back in 1994. Southwest High School senior, Silver Knight nominee, and Girl Scout Gold Award candidate, Gooden recently completed an educational activity book for siblings of premature infants or “preemies” born into the same neonatal unit where her life began.

“I have been volunteering at the NICU for the past three summers and it has been so incredible to get to work with some of the doctors and nurses who brought me into the world. I cannot put it into words, it is so cool getting to give back and show my appreciation. I am a living testimony for the families there now that their child is going to be okay,” said Gooden.

The “Once a Preemie Always a Preemie” project started when Gooden took on the Girl Scout Gold Award challenge. According to the official guidelines of the Gold Award Standards of Excellence, the spirit of the endeavor is to create a perpetual project that will endure as a way to “make a mark on your community that creates a lasting impact on the lives of others.”

Growing up hearing stories about how difficult it was for her family to not be able to take her home immediately, and especially for her 11 year old sister who was not allowed in the NICU, motivated Gooden to share her own personal story to inspire others dealing with the same issues.

“My sister Shannon would tell me how hard it was at the time to cope with not being able to see me although she understood why she couldn’t. It really inspired me to do this project to help out siblings of preemie babies. Things have changed a lot though since I was born because now kids can go back into the NICU with the parent although it is still hard for them to grasp why the baby cannot go home.”

South Miami Hospital hosts annual reunion luncheons for preemie families and Gooden has been attending them as far back as she can remember. The program gave birth to her involvement as a volunteer at the hospital when she asked her mom at age 15 if she could get involved. “The doctors already knew me from the reunions and they said it was okay for me to sign up,” said Gooden.

Gooden slowly incorporated documenting the story about what happens to a family when a preemie is born through the use of clip art pictures and eventually recruited girl scouts to help her design the images. The entire project took about four months to complete. Gooden ultimately put the books into individual goodie bags complete with colorful positive stickers, crayons, pencils, and candy all in a pastel paper bag decorated with happy preemie faces.

Today Gooden is busy preparing for her next academic pursuits as she completes college and scholarship applications. Hoping to become a future Seminole, she is applying to Florida State University with the dream of majoring in Chemistry to ultimately work in health care as a pharmacist.

To find out how to support the South Miami Foundation Neonatal Unit call 786- 662-8206.

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