Many babies are admitted to this neonatal intensive care unit — those born unexpectedly early, some even before their own baby showers — receive their first gifts from Dana Gallahair.
"Yes, I'm the bag lady," Gallahair said, laughing.
She knocks on the door of an anxious mother's room, gives the new mom a gift bag and then gets on with her job as a registered nurse and care coordinator for the neonatal and newborn nursery at Baptist Medical Center South in Montgomery, Ala.
The bags help Gallahair with introductions, but they're not issued by the hospital. They're supplied when needed by her friend and former patient Kim Wilson, founder of Footprints Ministry and member of Heritage Baptist Church in Montgomery. Wilson started the neonatal intensive care unit ministry in August 2007 to uplift and encourage parents of NICU babies.
Some 800 babies are admitted to the NICUs of Baptist South and Baptist Medical Center East in Montgomery each year.
In 2006, Wilson's son John Parker was one of them.
Wilson can remember everything about her personal experience with the NICU at Baptist South — all the smells, sights, scary medical terms and crying, from both the babies and the parents. And there, behind a glass partition, in an incubator was John Parker. He'd been rushed to the NICU from Montgomery's Jackson Hospital for emergency surgery after his lung collapsed the day after he was born by planned Caesarean section.
Even if John Parker's mother had been able to be by his side, she couldn't have held him for the IVs in his tiny arms. Monitors and wires were everywhere. Wilson couldn't be with her son. She couldn't help him.
It was, she said, "indescribably overwhelming."
John Parker was released 10 days later — the longest 10 days of Wilson's life. She and husband Glenn credit the prayers of friends, family and their church for the health of their now nearly 2-year-old son.
Wilson also credits the compassion of nurses such as Gallahair, with whom she would soon partner, with helping her family through those days.
"It was such an emotional roller coaster," Wilson later wrote on the blog that serves as the ministry's website.
It's a roller coaster that she and Gallahair, through their Footprints ministry, are determined to make less scary for others.
"(Footprints) helps cushion what many parents would describe as a nightmare," said Gallahair, a member of Wadsworth Baptist Church in Deatsville, where her husband Bill is pastor. "It can be a little bit of silver lining in what might seem like a really dark cloud."
That silver lining comes with the gift bags — more than 400 distributed to date. The bags are filled with the expected — from baby magazines to burp cloths and gift cards to local stores and restaurants. They also provide for less-obvious needs like travel necessities.
Wilson said the travel necessities such as a toothbrush and Kleenex are important because most of the babies in NICU are premature and their families are unprepared for an overnight stays in the hospital.
But it's the blankets a new mother can sleep with and then place with her baby and the prayer request cards she can fill out and send to churches that people seem to appreciate most.
For Beth Barranco, it was the disposable cameras that came in the bag, which she gave to the nurses to capture her daughter Peyton's first bath. Peyton came seven weeks early and weighed less than 3 pounds when she was born. Barranco couldn't give her the bath or even be there to watch, but thanks to Footprints, she feels as though she were there.
"(Footprints) was just really great," said Barranco, a member of Heritage Baptist. "They gave us a gift basket when we had her, and Kim came and prayed with us all the time. It was so uplifting."
Peyton stayed in the NICU at Baptist East for six weeks. When she arrived home about a month ago, Wilson and company were there to welcome her with balloons, signs and footprints cut from poster board leading to the front door.
"Kim still continues to pray with us. I talk to her all the time," Barranco said. "It really is a great ministry."
And a growing one — Footprints is on the verge of securing 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and could be expanding into Atlanta and even Orlando, Fla.
"I would love to be able to expand to Birmingham and Huntsville as well," Wilson said. "I also hope to have a Footprints house one day for families to stay in while their babies are in the NICU.
"I know the Lord has great things in store for this ministry," Wilson said. "There is such a huge need."
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Henderson is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.)