From left: Parents Advisory Network Vice President Ryan Rost, Secretary Jen Reisbord, Coordinator Cindy DeAngelis, and President Regan Sarmento.
From the excitement that comes with welcoming a new addition to the nervousness that accompanies a first-time parent, pregnancy can be an emotional ride, especially for mothers whose pregnancy or delivery has taken an unprecedented turn, such as a newborn’s stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or a diagnosis of bed rest. In situations like these, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of what comes next. That’s where the Parents Advisory Network comes in.
The Parents Advisory Network, PAN, is committed to providing encouragement and hope to mothers with babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Paoli and Bryn Mawr Hospitals and Lankenau Medical Center. Comprised of parent volunteers, PAN aims to match expectant mothers with a high-risk pregnancy or a baby in the NICU with a volunteer who has been in their situation previously.
“Unless you’ve been in their shoes, it’s difficult to really sympathize with a mother who is going through that,” explains PAN coordinator Cindy DeAngelis. “We want to pair these women with someone who really understands exactly what they’re going through.”
DeAngelis has served as PAN program coordinator since 1999, when she assumed the role alongside her job as a maternity nurse at Bryn Mawr Hospital. In addition to her work experience, Cindy has had personal experience that qualifies her for the position, as well. Her son, Evan, was born premature at 26 weeks and spent time in the NICU after birth.
“As a mother who has been through that, I understand how important it is to provide support for women who need it,” she says. “I think the programs and information PAN offers can be so beneficial when you’re not sure what to do next.”
Although PAN volunteers are not medical professionals, training is required. Parent volunteers must complete a training course, which addresses issues such as communication skills and grief counseling. Upon their completion, they can volunteer to take part in one of PAN’s multiple outreach efforts.
One of PAN’s primary programs is its visitation services, in which PAN parent counselors make weekly visits to each hospital to talk to parents who currently have babies in the NICU. This time allows parents to voice their fears and concerns and ask questions, and opens up a dialogue about their new role and any struggles they may be facing.
PAN also offers parent counseling over the phone or through email correspondence. Most recently, the group has expanded their services to include the Bed Rest Buddies program, which allows volunteers to reach out to mothers who are on bed rest, either at home or at the hospital.
“If you’re on bed rest at home, you’ll be paired up with someone who has been on bed rest at home. If you’re at the hospital, the volunteer has been on bed rest at the hospital before, too. We really do try and match you up with someone who has been in your exact situation,” says DeAngelis.
In addition to its volunteer base, PAN also has the support of the medical staff at each facility. Dr. Glenn Kaplan, Director of Neonatology for Main Line Health, serves as medical director for the group, and nurse liaisons from Lankenau, Paoli and Bryn Mawr are all a part of the professional staff that offers its support.
Since its inception, PAN has grown to include about 40 volunteers. Since 1997, the group has raised over $400,000 for the three hospital NICUs, largely due to fundraising events, including an annual golf tournament, silent auctions and bake sales. While financial assistance has allowed PAN to maintain and expand the services it offers, what drives its volunteers is the spirit of service.
If you’ve had experience as an expectant mother on bed rest or as a parent of a baby in the NICU and are interested in getting involved with PAN or would like to make a donation, visit their website.