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Eagle Scout delivers blankets, booties to babies

Evan Essex gives back to premature babies in need

Evan Essex, age 13, shakes hands with Col. Jerome Penner III, commander of Madigan Army Medical Center at a short ceremony where the youngster donated 55 blankets, hats and booties to the hospital’s Neonatal ICU. /Cassandra A. Fortin

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Evan Essex has a generosity of spirit that far exceeds his 13 years.

When faced with the challenge of completing a project to earn the rank of Eagle Scout, he knew immediately that he wanted to do something to help others.

During a brainstorming session with his parents on the way home from church, he threw out several ideas.

"At first, I thought I wanted to do a blood drive," the youngster said.  "Then I thought maybe since I was born in a NICU, I could do something for a NICU (Neonatal ICU) ... Then I thought, why not the NICU where I was born? ... It is very hard to find clothes for premature babies, so maybe I could do that."

Thirteen years after his birth at Madigan Army Medical Center, the youth has devised and completed a project that will benefit babies who are cared for in the Madigan NICU where he spent the first months of his life, and also say thank you to the nurses and medical staff who he credits with saving his life.  His plan - raise money, buy blankets, hats and booties, and deliver them to the hospital.

To start his project, he called the unit and learned that they care for about 45 babies a month, and that several of the nurses who cared for him were still at the hospital.

His father recalled his son's experience in the NICU as a premature baby in a recent interview.

"Evan was called a micro-preemie when he was born," said Joe Essex, a commander in the U.S. Navy who works as a naval aerospace physiologist in Orlando.  "Laura and I lived minute by minute.  No one ever told us that he was going to go home.  He had a lot of episodes ... it sort of went in waves."

But he did go home.  He weighed 6 pounds 1 ounce and he was 18 inches long, and today he is a very active child.

After Evan's discussion with the NICU, he began fundraising.  He held two car washes, and a restaurant Spirit Night, from which he raised a total of $600.

Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, Evan and his family traveled from Orlando to deliver not 45, but 55 sets of blankets, booties and hats, to the Madigan NICU.  The trip, much like the youngster's start in this world, was both heartwarming and emotional.   

Folks at Madigan rolled out the red carpet for the boy.  His day began with a visit to hospital commander, Col. Jerome Penner ‘s office with his father, Joe Essex, a commander in the U.S. Navy, who works in Orlando as a naval aerospace physiologist, his mother Laura, and his sister, Leya, age 10.

After the commander's call, Evan and his family were taken to the NICU where they were received by a room full of NICU nurses, who showered him with hugs, kisses, and memories of his 144-day visit with them more than a decade ago.

In a quick ceremony in the NICU, Col. Penner said a few words before turning it over to Evan.

"I think it is a tremendous project that Evan felt enough to give back to the hospital that he feels saved his life," said Penner, who also presented Evan and his father with a commander's coin at the end of the short ceremony.

Carmelita Rivero - a NICU nurse who has worked at Madigan for three years as an active duty servicemember and then about 13 as a civilian - was touched by Evan's gesture.

"It is so exciting to have someone come back to us like this," she said pulling out some baby pictures of the boy.  "We have a Christmas party each year, but when the soldier's PCS we never see them again.  So it is so nice to get to see him today."

Susan Hicks, the head nurse of the NICU reiterated what Rivero said.

"This is the most wonderful thing that has happened to us in years," she said grinning ear to ear. "We have gotten a lot of things from people over the years, but never anything like this. It is absolutely amazing."

It was an experience that Evan said he will never forget.

"I never got to say thank you for saving my life when I was baby," he told the crowd, with a big smile.  "This is my thank you tribute to all of you." 

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