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Iowa group sews clothes for premature babies

November 18, 2018

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) — Cathy McRoberts knows the anguish families endure when a baby is born premature. She lived it when her granddaughter didn’t survive after being born with only 28 weeks and 6 days in the womb.

Now she’s healing her broken heart by providing some light to other families during their darkest of times. McRoberts gathered a group of close friends and family to sew gowns and blankets for neonatal intensive care unit babies through the Smiley Project, an organization that provides support to NICU families in the U.S., Canada and Ireland. Their group is called Mending Hearts.

“It’s a miracle these babies even survive. The sewing helps me,” McRoberts told The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier .

In 2017, her daughter, Amie McRoberts, gave birth to premature twin girls Ella and Emma on the small island of Saipan, near Guam, where she has lived for the past seven years. Saipan is the largest island of the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the United States in the western Pacific Ocean.

The identical twins needed specialized medical care and had to be medically transported 6,000 miles from their island home to Rady’s Children’s Hospital in San Diego. The girls couldn’t be transported together, so Ella, the most critical, was going to go first. Cathy McRoberts quickly hopped on a flight to California and met her daughter at the hospital when they learned Ella was too sick to fly and had very little chance of survival.

Baby Emma survived the transfer, but Baby Ella died at just 4 weeks old.

“Amie never got to hold her baby,” Cathy McRoberts said through tears.

The family waited four long months for Emma to get healthy enough to go home. During that time they received hats and gowns sewn by volunteers through the Smiley Project.

“We felt so good when we got that gown because Ella and Emma never had clothes. They had too many tubes and stuff all over them. Those gowns covered up what was apparently wrong with them so she looked like a normal baby,” Cathy McRoberts said.

Members of the organization have stayed in touch with Amie McRoberts since the girls were born.

“I want to pay it forward, I want to do something good for people to make them feel good,” Cathy McRoberts said.

The Mending Hearts ladies get together several times a month and sew. Cathy McRoberts’s cousin, Debra Henn, joined the group after her husband of 51 years died.

“I think it’s helped her,” Cathy said. “I think this helps all of us. We call ourselves the Mending Hearts because that’s what it does.”

Emma still has chronic lung disease, but her family is hoping she will outgrow the condition by age 5.

Amie McRoberts said Ella is their guardian angel. “Without her, Emma would have never made it to California to get the help she needed. She is our superhero!”

Nearly three weeks ago, Amie McRoberts was once again in the face of tragedy. This time they were in the eye of one of the strongest storms on the planet.

Super Typhoon Yutu, equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane, slammed the Northern Mariana Islands, which include Saipan, late Oct. 24.

“It didn’t just hit a certain area, they were in the eye of the typhoon,” Cathy McRoberts said. “It’s awful. Of course everything on the island is sold out. If you look at the devastation it’s unbelievable.”

Cathy McRoberts and her husband are planning to make the 28-hour trip to Saipan in December to help put the pieces back together and provide support during the flu season.

“This time of the year is bad for Emma. ... Her immune system isn’t as developed as a full-term baby,” Cathy McRoberts said. “We will be working. Her school room is completely gone, just trying to get some sort of normalcy back so they’re kids aren’t a mess, they all have (post-traumatic stress disorder). They don’t have electricity.”

Amie McRoberts teaches fourth and fifth grade at Saipan International School, where the ceiling and a wall were ripped apart.

The Washington Post said it was the strongest storm so far this year, unleashing 180-mph winds through the U.S. islands in the western Pacific Ocean. The islands are home to about 52,000 people.

“The storm is roaring across the U.S. islands of Saipan and Tinian, part of the island chain, and will become one of the most intense storms on record to hit U.S. soil,” the Washington Post reported.

Parts of the islands are still without power and water today. Many residential structures were destroyed, leaving behind a major housing crisis as hundreds were left homeless, according to the Saipan Tribune.

Saipan is the second-largest island in the Mariana Islands archipelago, after Guam. Located about 120 miles north of Guam, Saipan is about 12 miles long and 5.6 miles wide.

The island was captured by the Empire of Japan in 1914 during World War I. By the 1920s, immigrants from Japan, Korea and Taiwan developed sugar plantations. Infrastructure, power stations, paved roads and schools later were introduced on the island. The U.S. secured the island after the Battle of Saipan from June 15-July 9, 1944, during World War II.

Saipan is the second-largest island in the Mariana Islands archipelago, after Guam. Located about 120 miles north of Guam, Saipan is about 12 miles long and 5.6 miles wide.

The island was captured by Japan in 1914 during World War I. By the 1920s, immigrants from Japan, Korea and Taiwan developed sugar plantations. Infrastructure, power stations, paved roads and schools later were introduced on the island. The U.S. secured the island after the Battle of Saipan from June 15-July 9, 1944, during World War II.

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Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, http://www.wcfcourier.com

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