James and Jessica McCann spent the bulk of the 2017 offseason at the hospital, surrounded by nurses and doctors, incubators and the beep, beep, beep of medical equipment, wondering when their twin boys would come home.
It was a desperately isolating experience for the now-Mets catcher and his wife. The boys, Christian and Kane, were born 10 weeks premature — around the time babies hover at 3 pounds — and "nothing can prepare you to go home without your baby," said Jessica, beginning to cry.
"It was the most challenging time in my life," she said. "Just being home without them, it didn’t feel right. Going through the holidays without them didn’t feel right. It was honestly exhausting emotionally and physically, but at the end of the day, it was obviously totally worth it."
That’s because, after seven weeks, Christian and Kane were released from Vanderbilt University Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and allowed to go home. They’re 3 now and active, happy toddlers — showing no trace of their difficult start to life.
Jessica’s Instagram account is peppered with pictures of her boys, including Kane happily eating ice cream at Citi Field, decked out in Mets gear. Christian, in a matching outfit, triumphantly holds two foam bats.
But the McCanns haven’t forgotten — they can’t forget — which is why multiple times a year, they use the opportunity to give back.
This time, for Mother’s Day, they’ll be giving 106 gift cards to mothers in the Cohen Children’s Medical Center NICU, located in New Hyde Park. They’ve also partnered with Dunkin’ to provide breakfast for the doctors and nurses working that day.
Cohen Children's Medical Center is named after Mets owners Steve and Alex Cohen, who donated $50 million to the hospital in 2010.
Gestures like these are about more than just money and bagels, said Dr. Charles Schleien, the senior vice president of pediatric services at Cohen and its chair of pediatrics.
Standing vigil over a premature baby — sometimes not knowing if they’ll survive those early weeks — is lonely and difficult and takes a tremendous mental toll on parents. COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation, too. Isolation protocols mean that parents can stay with their babies, yes, but generally, they can only do it solo.
"We’ve never stopped parents from being able to be with their baby, but we don’t have intact families," Schleien said. "Most of the time, it’s been one parent at a time, so it’s not like they could be there together, crying and laughing and talking about it together. It’s incredibly isolating."
Schleien said they generally have 60 babies in the unit on any given day.
"When we were there, we saw what people went through while their children were in the NICU," James McCann said. "Jessica and myself, but especially the mother, delivering a child or, in our case, two children, and then not being able to take them home and only getting to see them in the hospital and having restrictions on when you can hold them and when you can’t hold them and everything that went into being a NICU family" was challenging.
The McCanns said that right after their kids came home, they began the process of giving back. First it was Christmas packages for the staff at Vanderbilt and then gift cards for NICU families in whatever city James was playing in. It’s New York’s turn now.
"This being our first year in New York, it was important to us to dive into the community and make it home," James said. "This is our home for the next four years and we want to leave our imprint on the city and the people of the city and hopefully share our story and give hope to other families in a similar situation."
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