Jamie Griffin happily watched her 14-month-old son Casey poke and prod at the paper, her hawk-like eyes on him every second. They sat in the living room where baby gates confined Casey to the sofa area, keeping him safe with his toys and away from the front door. Her grandmother, Meemaw, sat in the corner quietly observing.
“When he’s not playing with his toys, he’s chasing me with the broom,” Jamie said, laughing and describing how he tries to help her and mimic everything she does. Casey proved her point by grabbing at a book from the table and turning the pages.
Jamie credits the Healthy Start program at the Duval County Health Department for helping her get through her difficult pregnancy. The pregnancy brought on heart complications and affected her blood pressure. There were scary flashes of dizzy spells and fear that she was not going to be able to carry her baby through to term.
But Casey’s birth was not the end of her problems.
New complications arose after the pregnancy. Casey was a healthy weight of 6 pounds 3 ounces at birth, but then stopped eating. He would not take food from either her or the bottle and ended up in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for the first week of his life.
“He just wanted to sleep,” Jamie said. She laughs about it now, belying the nervousness of those first days. Hospital care and intervention has helped Casey make good progress and he is now a busy toddler.
The Camellia Project at Shands Jacksonville Medical Center helped Jamie learn to eat healthier, manage her household and deal with stress. The Project, a special Coalition pilot project funded by the March of Dimes, provides information and support to women who have had a baby hospitalized in the NICU — it offers guidance and a place for women to be active in their own care.
The Project has helped Jamie make sure that her son was developing properly after the difficult start.
“He’s learning all kinds of skills,” she said, wishing that the program would stay with him all the way through school.
Meeting with other women going through similar circumstances helped her immensely. Larry Hutcherson, her partner, would drive her across town to make sure she got to the weekly Camellia support group meetings. Larry, a former firefighter and construction worker, said he was grateful for the Project’s watchful eye on Jamie and their son.
Jamie still keeps in touch with several women in the group who have also had difficult pregnancies. They keep each other’s spirits up by sharing experiences and guiding each other. Jamie was even encouraged to go back to school.
She is proud of the skills that she has acquired as a mom and prouder still of the skills her son has developed through the Project as well. In their favorite moments, rocking together in the porch swing of her cheerful little Northside house, she wonders at how far he has come and how far he can go.
“I wish the program would follow him forever,” Jamie said.