Papas and Pizzas: Bonding Over NICU Experiences

A brave father starts a support group for fathers with children in the NICU.

When my daughter, Deonc, was born it was obviously one of the most exciting times of my life…but also one of the scariest. Deonc was born with a rare genetic disorder called Jarcho Levin Syndrome. Although she was full term and average size at birth her chest and lungs were very tiny resulting in her needing ventilator support in the NICU at Texas Children’s Newborn Center. As a father, it was hard for me. I tried to be strong for my wife, but as it turns out, I needed support too. I needed to discuss my fears and feelings without burdening my wife with more fears or what ifs during an already difficult and stressful time.

My emotions were all over the place. I was worried, scared and confused. When our daughter was discharged from the NICU and we were finally home as a family, I told my wife about my concerns and that I wish I’d had someone to talk to. While my wife was at her next Newborn Center Family Advisory Committee meeting, they began throwing out ideas about different programs at the hospital that would benefit families with babies in the NICU. Thus, Papas and Pizzas was born.

At each Papas and Pizzas meeting, I am there to help facilitate, along with other dads who have gone through the roller coaster ride that is a NICU journey. Dr. Frank Placenciaa, neonatologist at Texas Children’s, is also there to help answer any clinical questions that might arise. All of the dads are there to help sort through emotions and to give each other advice and hope. The meetings start with us sitting around in a circle and I invite each dad to share their story.. Papas and Pizzas is a place to be vulnerable, for dads to reach out to other dads and provide the essential support we all need during one of the most difficult times in all of our lives.

In our group, it’s not uncommon to see dads who are angry and frustrated about their situations and before now, many of them didn’t have an outlet to air those frustrations or receive adequate support. After attending a few Papas and Pizzas sessions, they have realized that no matter what their situation, the doctors, care staff and other NICU families are on their side and there to help through all of the highs and lows.

Papas and Pizzas has helped me grow as a father and husband. I know everyone’s experience and outcome is different, but Papas and Pizzas shows dads that they’re not alone. The group also helps me in my own personal journey of healing. Though it has been 7 years since my daughter was in the NICU, we continue to face challenges with her medical condition and this group has allowed me to gain perspective on not only my own struggles but what others are going through. Papas and Pizzas not only puts a smile on my face, but also a smile on my heart and I’m so proud Texas Children’s has recognized that this group is an important resource for our NICU families.

Darius Bradley, Father of patient

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