Telegram & Gazette Sept 14, 2014
By Michael Gelbwasser CORRESPONDENT
WORCESTER — Aaron Bissell spent his infancy fighting for survival in the UMass Memorial Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Now, 21 years later, “I’m well. I’m doing a lot of writing. And I take singing lessons. I pretty much do a lot of creative stuff,” said Mr. Bissell, of Grafton.
The neonatal intensive care unit’s 40th birthday was celebrated Saturday at the UMass Memorial Medical Center — University Campus, 55 Lake Ave. North. Numerous former patients of all ages gathered for a group photo on the front lawn.
The festivities celebrated “all the families that were able to have their children come home with them,” to remember the children “that left this world, frankly, too soon,” and to thank the families for letting the doctors and nurses “care for their children,” said Dr. Alan Picarillo, the UMass Memorial Medical Center’s chief of neonatology.
“It was a total privilege of caring for these children,” he said. “These families would leave them with us for long periods of time.”
The unit has cared for more than 20,000 infants since opening in 1974 with six beds, hospital officials said. The program now has 49 beds. Aaron Bissell and his twin brother Eric, born at 26 weeks, were treated “at the old NICU, over at Memorial Hospital,” in 1993, according to their mother, Cynthia.
“I can tell you, the first couple of years, both of the boys were very medically fragile. It was totally scary,” she said. “I’m a nurse, so I knew the risks involved in twins being born 3 1/2 months too soon.”
“I really came here today to thank some of the doctors. I remember all of them,” Mrs. Bissell added.
Dr. Picarillo said “the caring of the front-line staff” has been the one constant during the unit’s 40-year history.
“The amount of time they spend with the families, comforting them, encouraging them, empowering them. That’s what hasn’t changed,” he said.
Dr. Picarillo noted that infants brought to the unit are living longer than ever.
“In 1974, typically under 28 weeks wouldn’t survive at all. Now, we routinely save babies with 23 weeks,” he said.
Triplets Jameson, Payton and Callie Kaska of Northbridge are now 3 years old, said their mother, Lindsay. Their earliest days were “an emotional roller-coaster ride, living day to day,” Mrs. Kaska said. Now, the kids “are amazing. They’re right on target. They’re healthy,” she said.
Many families and staff reconnected on Saturday. Nurse Christina Evans was especially proud of Edward Parker Gagne, 4, of Holden.
“This little guy was one of my first babies I cared for,” said Ms. Evans, who has worked in the unit for 14 years. “To see him where he is today brings tears to my eyes.”
The Grafton News, a fixture in the Grafton community for the last 53 years, recently transitioned to new ownership.
Founder Charles N. Bolack has sold his interest in the weekly newspaper and its website to editor and publisher Donald E. Clark, graphic designer Wendy L. Watkins and website developer Cynthia M. Bissell, all residents of Grafton.
Bolack will continue to write “Up and Down the Highways,” the weekly column he has penned since 1958 when the newspaper was founded. He will also continue to be listed as “publisher emeritus” in the newspaper’s masthead.
Clark was named editor of the Grafton News in 2003 and publisher in January 2011. He started with the newspaper in 2002. He has been involved in journalism, newspapers, publishing, and graphic design for many years. Clark holds an associate’s degree from Worcester Junior College and a bachelor of arts in English from Worcester State College (now University).
Watkins has been the newspaper’s graphic designer for the past four years. Born in Montreal, she has a degree in commercial art from Dawson College. She was formerly an art director for Phillips-Magnavox in Canada
Bissell started www.thegraftonnews.com, the online version of the Grafton News, in 2009. A registered nurse, she began creating web sites professionally in 1998 and has received several awards and citations for her work on the development of specialized medical and disability-related Internet resources.
“Charlie started the Grafton News as a way to help foster the civic, cultural and economic life of the area, just as it says on our masthead,” said Clark. “Although we may explore new ways to do it, there’s no reason we should change that philosophy.”
On Friday, March 4, Linda Barry, special education teacher at Grafton High School, received the 2011 Unsung Hero award presented by the Central Massachusetts Department of Developmental Disabilities Citizen’s Advisory Board. The award was presented at the Annual Citizen Advisory Board’s Legislative Breakfast held at Clark University in Worcester.
Mrs. Barry was nominated for the award by Grafton residents Richard and Cynthia Bissell who’s son Eric is a Junior at Grafton High. The award was presented to Mrs. Barry by nominator and Keynote Speaker Richard Bissell.
“Mrs. Barry goes above and beyond the call of duty on a daily bases,” said Bissell. “She is an excellent teacher who also has a natural ‘instinct’ for what individual students need. This is a gift that cannot be taught. ”
In addition to the Unsung Hero Award, Mrs. Barry was presented with a citation from the State House of Representatives presented by Representative John P. Fresolo for her “dedication to individuals with disabilities and their families.”
Mrs. Barry also received a citation from the Massachusetts State Senate presented by Jason Palitsch, representing Senator Mike Moore.
The DDS Central Region Citizen Advisory Board holds an annual Legislative Breakfast in order to bring legislators, provider agencies, DDS staff, individuals and families together to discuss issues facing people with developmental disabilities. It has been a tough couple of years for DDS due to the current economic problems and statewide budget cuts.
Department of Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Elin M. Howe spoke of the challenges faced by the department in order to provide much needed services for children and adults with intellectual disabilities in the face of budget cuts and staff lay-offs. “Of most concern to all of us, barring none, are the cuts to our family support services account.” said Howe.
In his Keynote speech, Richard Bissell discussed the importance of family support funding. “We are talking about a very small amount of money, compared to the cost of residential placement.” “Families are saving taxpayers millions of dollars by caring for their children and adult children at home.” A small amount of family support money can be the difference between a family surviving or not.
The theme of this year’s Legislative Breakfast was “Where Are We Going?”, with a large question mark. Will the funding be there in order for people with developmental disabilities to live with dignity as productive citizens in our communities or will we return to the dark ages of neglect? It has been said that a community, a state, a country and in fact the world should be judged by how well we support our most vulnerable citizens.