Premature babies comforted by crocheted octopi

Noah (one month old) snoozes next to his octopus from the "Octopus for a Preemie" program.

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A Mulvane woman is helping to change the way the littlest of babies are cared for by using lots of love and yarn.

Valerie Megonigle is the local ambassador for “Octopus for a Preemie,” an international organization that began in the United Kingdom. Crocheted octopi are created with very strict testing standards to make them safe for even the littlest babies in perhaps their most fragile stage of life. The crafted octopi emulate the same shape of the mother’s umbilical cord which babies often find with their tiny fingers to be a comfort item.

Made for “Octopus for a Preemie” (Carly Willis/KSN news)

“We try to simulate being in the womb as much as we can when they’re not in there, which is very difficult to do because of the two different environments, but it can give them comfort that way,” said Michelle Armbrister, director of women and infants at Via Christi.

Megonigle has enjoyed crocheting her whole life, but now, it has more meaning, especially after giving birth to two premature babies nearly 30 years ago. She remembers how emotionally taxing time in the NICU can be. One of her babies was even born at Via Christi St. Joseph, which is now a local recipient of the NICU octopi.

“When they were born, they didn’t have anything like this. So I just thought if there’s some way I can give back for what has been done to me for my two when they were little, then that’s what I want to do. Not only for the little ones, but for the families,” Megonigle said.

A one month old baby named Noah snoozes in the NICU unit next to his black and white octopus, which passed several tests in order to be given to him. Any loop or loose thread could be a danger to a little baby, so a rigorous test must be passed before the octopus made of yarn is sanitized and put into a baggie to give to the parents, avoiding germs while in transition.

Octopus for a Preemie tests each octopus for many things before giving them to an infant.

“We use a dum dum lollipop stick, and if you can stick it in anywhere at all, it won’t pass,” explained Megonigle.

Many people have joined the group on Facebook dedicated to creating the octopi. All the ones donated to Megonigle go through the same tests. Megonigle matches the number of octopi created with the number Armbrister’s unit needs at the time, so no preemie baby goes without.

Megonigle crochets the octopi, Michelle gets them to a prematurely born baby in the NICU.

The octopi that do not pass the testing are not wasted, rather, they are given to older children who can just enjoy them as stuffed animals. Megonigle gave two away in the lobby of St. Joseph hospital on Wednesday afternoon.

Octopus for a Preemie is a non-profit organization, if you’re interested in joining, please visit the group on Facebook.

“They do this out of the goodness of their hearts, it’s very sweet,” Armbrister said.

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