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Beads help families celebrate a newborn's milestones in intensive care

Michelle Maloney implemented the milestone bead program in the NICU to celebrate each child's milestone with a bead or charm that's put on a necklace. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. -- Kaylena Vanleuven gave birth to her daughter, Lidia, on December 5 - 11 weeks early.

Lidia was 2 pounds, 8 ounces when she was born.

Now, she's 4 pounds, 7 ounces.

The family has been in the hospital for 12 weeks:six before Lidia was born and six after.

Both mom and dad visit every day to make sure they don't miss a moment.

"You don't get that normal experience that you would expect or that you want from pregnancy where you get to go home with your baby or you get to hold them right away. So it's different; it's hard," Kaylena said.

As the weeks continue, huge milestones are accomplished in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU.

"This hand-hold is my favorite because it really highlights the bond between a parent and child," said NICU RiverBend medical social worker Michelle Maloney.

She implemented the milestone bead program in the NICU to celebrate each milestone with a bead or charm that's put on a necklace.

"I just think it brings a lot of joy during a time where you can have a lot of heartache."

Each family has their own unique necklace.

Kalena says its "something where I can actually have it documented and share it with her when she's older to be able to mark those milestones and be able to share what the journey was like."

It's a tangible mark of accomplishment. "Long. It's been a very long journey."

A journey that's heading home in a week.

"It's exciting," Kalena adds, "I think she's doing so good because she knows there's somewhere better to be."

Having a baby is a joyous occasion, but for some families in the NICU, it can be a trying time.

The milestone beads don't make up for the struggle these families face, but they do acknowledge the first feeding, another pound gained, and it's something to be cherished.

The milestone bead program was started by the National Organization Hand to Hold.

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