Baby buns’ parents give back to families with children in NICU’s: ‘One day in the NICU is like a lifetime’

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC)– A Dinwiddie couple whose son was in the NICU for almost a year, is now giving back to parents in the same situation. Dana Griffin-Graves and Arkell Graves partnered with Bon Secours Hospitals to help families through their non-profit, ‘Baby Buns 4 Life.’

Thousands have been following the Graves family and their son Kaleb or ‘baby buns’ journey. It started with a viral video of ‘baby buns’ father sobbing when he learned he was going to be a dad. Graves gave birth to her son prematurely in October of 2015. He weighed in at less than one pound, after spending 356 days at VCU Medical Center.

She is now the Founder and President of Baby Buns 4 Life.

Baby Buns 4 Life founder Dana Griffin-Graves.

“One day in the NICU is like a lifetime,” said Graves.

The family is now using their emotional experience to support others as they go through a similar situation.

For parents Courtney and Kennard Curtis, the NICU at St. Francis Medical Center is an all too familiar site. Their newborn son Caleb has spent the last several weeks there. They lived through a similar situation to what they experienced with their daughter just a few years earlier.

“That discharge day when you know the mother is being sent home, is a hard day,” said Courtney Curtis.

This is a feeling Dana Griffin-Graves knows all too well.

Courtney and Kennard Curtis told 8news they are close to the Graves family. The Curtis family has followed the story of ‘baby buns’ on social media.

“They share the same name as our son. They’re both strong warriors and fighters. We love the meaning of the name Caleb and that’s why we chose that name,” said Curtis.

Graves and her husband used more than $10,000 in donations to start the non-profit. The organization works with eight hospitals total and has made donations to four Bon Secours hospitals: St. Francis Medical Center, St. Mary’s hospital, Memorial Regional Medical Center and Southside Medical Center.

Graves told 8news she learned so much from being the mother of a micro preemie.

Director of Bon Secours NICU’s Dr. Ann Heerens was involved in the decision to bring the non-profit to Bon Secours.

“I’m always amazed that parents will trust me. I’m someone they’ve never met and someone who has entered their lives at the arguably worst moment of their lives for most of them,” said Heerens. “They not only give me, but my whole team the trust of their child. It’s worth everything that I’ve put into it over the years, just to help support these kids and give the families the kids they so desperately want.”

Heerens is thankful for the collaboration between Bon Secours and ‘Baby Buns 4 Life.’

“It’s not just about having a sick child and moving from crisis to crisis, but it’s the feeling of leaving your baby in the NICU and leaving your baby in the care of strangers,” said Heerens.

Graves is now dedicating her life to help others.

“There were families that were in the hospital for weeks longer than they needed to be because they didn’t have the money for the car seat to go home,” said Graves.

The non-profit delivers baby buns blessing bags filled with gift cards for food and gas, journals and inspirational books. In addition to providing monthly meals, snacks and drinks for the parents’ lounge, the non-profit also supplies diapers and formula to parents as requested upon a baby’s release from the NICU.

“To know that I’m able to make an impact on someone by just giving them something to brighten their day, makes us feel wonderful,” said Graves.

For the NICU parents, and for the NICU staff, they’ve delivered pick-me-ups as well like a Keurig for the busy nurses.

The Curtis family is just one of 3,600 families that have been helped by Baby Buns 4 Life in Virginia and Texas. The family received a phone call from St. Francis Medical Center Thursday morning, telling them that their son Caleb should be home in several days.

“For us as providers, the most amazing moment is when the baby is finally able to go home. We’re sending these babies home that are not only thriving, but they’re surviving and they’re doing extremely well,” said Heerens.