WOODBRIDGE, Va. — They're the tiniest victims of the opioid crisis: babies born addicted and going through the painful affects of withdrawal. Now, a Woodbridge, Virginia hospital is using volunteers to help those babies with a new program called Loving Arms.
Volunteers come in and hold the babies, trying to counter the affects of withdrawal. Jerking movements and constant crying are some of the symptoms of a baby's opiate addiction caused by the mothers' use.
Painkillers such as morphine are often necessary to help the babies with their withdrawal.
"They cry they shake, they have what we call tremors. Rapid breathing. High Pitched cries, so it's more of a shrill. It's heartbreaking, yeah," said Nicole Ward, RN in the NICU, neonatal intensive care unit at Sentara-Woodbridge. During the past year, the hospital has cared for 12 babies born addicted to drugs.
Ward said about 50 percent of moms confess they are battling addiction. When moms keep their addiction a secret, nurses look for tell-tale signs in their newborns.
"Very stiff. Like you can almost pick them up like a board," Ward explained. "They're not comfortable, they're just tight."
To help these babies, NICU state nurse Joanne McCoubry started Loving Arms which trains volunteers like Linda Trexler in the specifics in how to console these babies. The babies prefer low light and rocking. Mostly, the volunteers just cuddle them.
"Sitting there rocking them, comforting them, which is what they need," McCoubrey said. She said the power of human touch makes a big difference.
"They're so inconsolable and they're hurting and they're reaching out and struggling, " Trexler explained. "Our job is to get then to feel better."
Sentara does not have any drug-addicted newborns right now, so Linda is practicing her new skills on a baby born prematurely.
McCoubry said she modeled their Loving Arms program after the Suffolk, Virginia Sentara hospital's program, which saw positive results.
"What they're finding by holding these kids and cuddling them, really decreases the use of the medication and it really helps get them through this terrible time that they're experiencing," McCoubrey said.
When Trexler heard about the program, she signed right up.
"I thought, I could really make a difference. They need people to help with these babies and they're starting out life so hard," Trexler said. "If I could be a part of making their life just a little bit easier, it would definitely be worth it."
The hospital already has a handful of volunteers trained and signed up for shifts as soon as needed.