For the last three years, one mom has been giving parents a priceless gift—more time with their children in the NICU. Because of Carrie Meghie and her nonprofit, Jackson Chance Foundation, more than 1,000 families have received parking passes and transportation vouchers to help them visit their kids as often as possible.
Meghie realized how costly going to the hospital and parking could get when she and her husband Terrie would make their way to their newborn's side daily.
Their son Jackson was born premature at 31 weeks with underdeveloped lungs on Nov. 11, 2011, at 11:11 p.m. He spent most of his almost 10 months of life in the NICU of Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago.
The Meghies "were told by Jackson’s doctors that visiting their child everyday was just as important to his health and recovery as the medical care he received. Fortunate enough to have the resources to make this possible, the couple was able to spend every day with their son," the Foundation's site reads.
But not every family is as fortunate.
Parking in cities can cost up to $1,000 a month, and the average stay for a baby in the NICU is 28 days (though many patients end up needing to stay for months at a time). So the Meghies quickly found out in just the first month that with the both of them visiting Jackson and going in and out of the garage several times a day for work or lunch, they spent almost $2,000 to park.
This doesn't even take into consideration the cost of an additional car if families don't have one or if parents need to take time off to stay with Baby in the NICU. Even public transportation can grow expensive for families struggling to make housing or child care payments.
"It's just not something that people expect," Meghie, who was named a CNN hero, told CNN. "These babies are in the NICU for months at a time. Many families are making choices: 'Do I go back to work? Do I take some more time off so I can spend more time with my baby?' If we can save them $1,000 a month that they might have spent in parking, they don't have to make so many of those choices."
Meghie decided to honor baby Jackson by starting the Jackson Chance Foundation, which has raised more than $1.5 million to pay for parking expenses and provides complimentary parking and transportation to NICU families at Lurie Children's Hospital.
And others around the country are following her example. According to DNAinfo Chicago, about 20 people in other cities have already reached out to Meghie to launch similar programs.
"We spent quite a while really talking and thinking about what would have the most impact. And it all came back to how happy Jackson was and why," Meghie said. "It was because we were there. We just thought, 'How do we give that gift to other babies?' So we just decided that that was going to be our mission to make it so every baby could have somebody with them 24/7."