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From tiny infants, big artists grow

J.D. Denham (website)

As DHMC's Neonatal Intensive Care Nursery (NICU) has known for some time, good things often come in very small packages. Twenty-five years ago, when the unit consisted of four bassinets in a corner of the adult ICU at the old hospital in Hanover, Jesse Blanchard was a very small package indeed —900 grams, or less than two pounds. He spent the first 10 weeks of his life in intensive care.

He's grown considerably, and so have his artistic gifts. Blanchard, now a professional artist who has had shows in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, California, and the Caribbean, recently visited the new NICU (which has grown itself, to more than 30 beds) to present the staff with one of his bright and bold abstract paintings. "I wanted to give something back to the unit," Blanchard explains. "I wanted to thank them, especially since I was one of the earliest."

He hopes, he says, that others will feel the same need to give back to a place that gave them so much.

Remarkably, four of the people who cared for him when he was a newborn still work in the NICU and were on hand to celebrate the gift of Blanchard's canvas: George Little, M.D., his neonatologist; Carol Little, M.D., who at the time was a resident; and two of his nurses—Linda Brown and Kathy Allbright (pictured above with Blanchard). Even more remarkable is the fact that George Little can remember him—as a baby who was "challenging," needing almost constant care.

When Blanchard was born, babies of his size and gestational age had only a 15% chance of living. Today, preemies weighing 900 grams face vastly improved odds—better than 90% of them survive.

He was surprised, Blanchard said during his visit to the unit, to see just how tiny the babies in the NICU are. "I'd never seen one before," he remarked. "I couldn't believe the tininess." Having shown Blanchard a baby the size he was at birth, Allbright then presented him with a gift: a tiny plaster cast of an infant's hand, the size that Jesse's was when he was born.

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