NICU babies wear ‘Trolls’ outfits for Halloween celebration at CUMC-Bergan Mercy

The tiny knitted hats – 20 pink ones and 20 blue ones – were all lined up at the nurses station, each one with teased-out strands of yarn sticking out like the colorful hairstyles of the characters from the animated movie “Trolls.”

On Saturday, the neonatal intensive care unit at Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy was all “Trolls”-themed for its annual Halloween event. Those little hats, all knitted by JoLynn Keplinger, a part-time NICU nurse, became many of the babies’ first Halloween costumes.

In her own “Trolls” outfit – complete with a fuchsia wig and a pink tutu – Keplinger explained why she spent more than a month knitting the hats.

“Halloween is my favorite and I don’t want these families to miss it,” she said. “I think being able to celebrate can take their minds off of the stress of being here.”

Some of the other nurses helped out, too, sewing felt shorts and dyeing onesies to complete the “Trolls” outfits for the babies.

Even the pumpkins at the nurses station were decorated to look like trolls.

For many families with babies in the NICU, the Halloween celebration – which has been held for more than 20 years – offers a welcome way to lighten the mood, said Lauren Westerdale, the NICU director.

“For many of these babies, this is their first holiday,” she said. “We just want to make it special.”

Special it was, said Tiffany Awortwi, whose twin daughters, Sarah and Sarai, were born about two months premature. Since the babies’ births on Oct. 13, Awortwi has spent several hours every day in the NICU, leaving in the evenings to check on her three other children before returning to spend the night with the twins.

“It’s so nice to be able to bring the whole family here to bond together over something fun,” Awortwi said as her 5-year-old son sat in the lobby and finished a craft in his Pikachu costume. After two weeks of visiting his sisters in a quiet hospital room, the big brother was eager to have a few activities – and a table full of treats – just for siblings of the NICU babies.

And someday, when the twins are older and flipping through their baby photos, Awortwi will explain the “adorable” hats with the goofy hair.

“I’ll tell them about how the day they got those hats was the best day,” she said. “I’ll tell them that they got a whole lot of attention for being cute that day.”

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