Preemie Purple Hearts was founded in 1997 by Renea Ericson, a mother of three premature children, who sought to recognize the invaluable support her family had received from the then-emerging online chat community during — and following — their trying neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stay. To do so, Ericson created and began issuing the Preemie Purple Heart, a heart-shaped glass keepsake that symbolizes unity and empathy among preemie families. Following years of increasing demand, Ericson brought on fellow preemie team members Andy Male (a surviving 27-week preemie) and Cathy Male (Andy’s mother) to expand PPH’s national reach and Inkan Renfors of Sweden (a preemie mom) to manage its international growth.
“Not only is premature birth a shock to your system as the dream of a ‘normal’ pregnancy is gone, but it is also a terribly lonely experience for parents who find themselves stuck in a void between highly competent, but sometimes desensitized healthcare professionals and their caring, but mostly uninformed family and friends,” Ericson shared. “Premature birth is a highly unique experience that touches people worldwide, but is one that is only truly known by the families who live through it. Online chat groups like Preemie-L and Prematurity.org have given families the opportunity to share, console and grieve with others like themselves. The Heart symbolizes that connection and the overwhelming response we get from recipients—be them mothers, family members or professionals—
PPH issues Hearts directly to preemie community members and indirectly through NICU support programs. Each Heart is handcrafted, made of Czech glass and sterling silver. Unique waves of purple glass characterize each Heart, symbolizing the uniqueness of each preemie journey. The glass also represents purity and fragility, celebrating preemies who survive, while also honoring the many that do not. A single hanging silver teardrop symbolizes the tears of sorrow and joy that all members of the preemie community shed during their unique journey.
“The Preemie Purple Heart story has been translated into eight languages and our organization has been very fortunate to have helped thousands worldwide since 1997,” Ericson continued. “Our goal moving forward is to get a Heart in the hands of every preemie family that wants one. We are thankful to be able to donate our 2007 and 2008 income to March of Dimes and look forward to increasing that donation in 2009.”
Premature birth is the leading cause of infant mortality. According to the March of Dimes, over 500,000 premature babies are born each year, representing 1 out of every 8 births. The cause of premature birth is unknown and its frequency has increased by an alarming 14% since 1994.
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Preemie Purple Hearts is a prematurity advocate that provides a sense of community to families of preemie babies and NICU professionals through the issuance of its Preemie Purple Heart keepsake.