Space Contractor’s Spouse Helps Clothe Tiny Patients

Terry Webb, spouse of a contract employee with Detachment 1, 460th Space Communications Squadron, stands near the neonatal intensive care unit at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center here. Once a month, Mrs. Webb delivers gowns for babies in the NICU. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kerry Solan-Johnson)

Terry Webb, spouse of a contract employee with Detachment 1, 460th Space Communications Squadron, stands near the neonatal intensive care unit at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center here. Once a month, Mrs. Webb delivers gowns for babies in the NICU. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kerry Solan-Johnson)

In the NICU, Mrs. Webb refolds gowns, bonnets and blankets before adding her own. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kerry Solan-Johnson)

In the NICU, Mrs. Webb refolds gowns, bonnets and blankets before adding her own. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kerry Solan-Johnson)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- While respirators hissed tiny breaths for underdeveloped lungs and monitors glowed with blood pressure and heart rates of babies not ready for this world, Terry Webb slipped between the isolettes of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and pulled a cardboard box from a wall cabinet.

She placed the box and a shopping bag she carried side by side in a chair – and began to unpack the contents of the worn box making sure the delicate, tiny items were ready. After neatly reorganizing, she began to add to the box from her own bag – tiny gowns, bonnets and blankets for babies who, many who might never make it out of the NICU of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Terry Webb, whose husband is a contract employee with Detachment 1, 460th Space Communications Squadron, has been making the gowns for about seven years, carrying on the work of a husband-and-wife team that worked at Landstuhl years ago.

“They realized there was nothing to put the babies in when parents held their babies for the first and last time,” said Mrs Webb, a substitute teacher for Ramstein American High School. “All they could do was wrap the babies in hospital blankets because these babies are the size of a soda can.”

To make the gowns, Mrs. Webb uses a method of needlework called smocking.

“It’s an old technique, using embroidery on top of pleats which holds the pleats together, but still has a lot of give to it,” said Mrs. Webb.

The sizes she makes are extra tiny, tiny and small; the small size is even too small for a regular preemie, she said.
“Some of the babies I’ve seen come to the NICU (who would need these gowns) are only 500 grams,” said Maj. Sherry Moore, LRMC NICU head nurse.

The gowns she makes are often used as burial gowns because finding clothes small enough for the tiny bodies is nearly impossible, she said. But sometimes … just sometimes … for the lucky ones, it’s just the first of many outfits.

The blankets Mrs. Webb makes are 12-inch or 18-inch squares and she’s hoping to start making caps for the baby boys as soon as she finds a pattern, she said.

Mrs. Webb estimates she makes 12 to 15 gowns a year for the babies of LRMC’s NICU, more or less of the blankets and bonnets; and that her group, which meets once a month to make the gowns, produces an additional two to four gowns each month.

“Part of the group focuses on teaching smocking so others can make the gowns; I leave in two years, and I can’t meet the need for those babies by myself,” she said.

Mrs. Webb has children and grandchildren of her own, but has never lost one the way some parents lose babies in the NICU.

“I do this because it fulfills a need,” she said. “Being a mother, I think it would be hard to lose a baby.”

She said NICU nurses have told her when she makes her visits to refill the cardboard box how much the gowns are appreciated by parents. (Courtesy, Kaiserslautern American)