The mother of every infant admitted to the NICU is given a necklace to represent their child.

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The birth of a child is stressful in the best of times, but combine birth with life-threatening issues and the stress levels multiply exponentially.

A nurse at Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida is using her focus on newborns in need and a passion for jewelry design to help infants and families cope with being in the facility's neonatal intensive care unit.

Marilyn Cimino, a registered nurse and NICU supervisor at Golisano, started Tides of Hope in February when she began handing out a silver ball-chain necklace to mothers with an infant in the NICU.

"I adore taking care of the babies, moms and families. I wanted to do something to be around babies, especially those who needed more than the usual amount of care," the 18-year NICU veteran said. "And I wanted to do something that was a passion of mine."

Cimino, a New Jersey native, also has a degree in decorating and design from the New York School of Interior Design and a father who was in the jewelry business. She has been designing, making and selling her jewelry for five years.

The necklaces are adorned with crystal beads that denote milestones and "speed bumps" that infants and parents go through during their stays in the NICU.

With about 700 admissions annually at Golisano's NICU, Cimino said the necklace is a way parents could cope with the high-stress aspects of the unit.

The Tides of Hope chain contains a centerpiece of beach glass representing the strength and resilience of the babies. The glass is adorned with a turtle representing the slow journey that the infants and their patients and families often have in the NICU.

Beads for milestones

Beads are added when the patients and their families reach certain milestones — first time held, first bottle, moved to open crib — or get by what many in the unit call speed bumps — removing a chest tube, resolving sepsis, surviving surgery or getting a transfusion.

"Currently there are 18 crystals which symbolize the different health issues our babies face," Cimino said, with 12 milestone beads including the crown jewel — the discharge pearl.

The mother of every infant admitted to the NICU is given a necklace to represent their child. A similar program for fathers is under development.

Funding for the program comes via the Lee Memorial Auxiliary Board of Directors.

Cimino said the program has been well-received by parents and NICU staff.

"The staff has been wonderful," she said, adding that the mom's proudly document a milestone or related bead-worthy event.

Cindy Lucas, a NICU charge and transport nurse, said the necklace and what it represents is beautiful.

"The mothers love them," she said. "They are in awe of it. We actually enjoy when a baby makes another milestone, and we can go get another bead."

Cimino also sees friendships spring up between the families often when discussing their infants' progress and which beads they have.

Felicia Elsey, of Fort Myers, and Tiffany Lee, of Naples, have become fast friends while their babies progress through the NICU. They are staying at the Ronald McDonald House and often eat together.

Elsey, who had Emerson on April 15 at 450 grams and 11 inches long, loves the necklace idea.

"It provides an unspoken bond with the other parents," she said. "It gives you an idea what everyone is going through."

Lee's daughter, Sadie Grace, was born at 25 weeks. "She was really, really sick," she said.

The necklace and the beads helped her get through some rough days and keeps her focused on the discharge bead.

"It gives me hope," she said, adding about the friendship with Elsey that the necklace spawned: "We give each other hope and encouragement."

The mothers and families all pull for each other to get the pearl.

"You're heart really goes out to those with lots of beads," Lee said. "You're so happy for them when you see all the milestones, especially when they go to the step-down unit."

In another part of the NICU another mother was presented with the coveted pearl as she prepared her daughter Dylan for release.

"It's been amazing, a very positive experience," said Lee Mumme of Fort Myers. "The necklace has been a nice way to document her progress and a sweet gesture for the mom."

Mumme was ecstatic to get the pearl. "It was a joy to get the pearl. A huge accomplishment."

Tides of Hope

Some of the beads and what they represent:

Milestones — First time held, first time at breast, first bottle, first time wearing clothing, exclusively bottle or breast feeding, passed car seat/car bed test.

Illnesses — Apnea, cardiac, chromosomal abnormalities, neurologic, whole body cooling, respiratory support.

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