They are the tiniest patients in a hospital. Sometimes the sickest. Many times the strongest. For almost 30 years, Cuc Bui watched over them as a Carle nurse. She worked in the neonatal unit and pediatrics.
Bui said, "They're just so sick and it just break my heart. They in pain and nothing you can do about it. I need to do something to make them feel better."
So Bui made a blanket for a child in her care. She remembers his eyeballs got big and his parents couldn't thank her enough. That was blanket number one. There have been thousands since.
"Each blanket has special story and each blanket make special for them," she said. "No duplicate. They're the only one to have that blanket."
Each is hand-stitched for eight hours and every single one has their name on it. Bui thinks about them constantly when doing it. For the children, it's security. For the parents, it's a bright spot in dark days.
"I remember one mom," said Bui. "I gave her the blanket and she literally, at night time, she sit and guard that blanket because she was afraid someone was going to spill something or get dirty."
Now retired, Bui keeps many of the memories in a scrapbook. It's filled with pictures, thank you notes, and obituaries.
She said, "It's just a lot of sad stories. It's just a lot of them."
Some days Bui would come home from the hospital only to get a call that they needed an emergency blanket because a baby had died. She would sew all night and wouldn't sleep to make sure she had a blanket to take back to the hospital.
She still makes them for the children who've died. Several of them are buried with the covering. Those are the ones who stay in her heart. She remembered one baby, born to a drug-addicted mother.
"He the most lonely child on this earth. Nobody want him. Nobody want him. He deaf. He blind. It's just really, really hard. I still go to his grave."
That little boy and others like him are the reasons Bui wanted to be a nurse, but that seemed like just a dream in her home country of Vietnam. On April 29, 1975, American soldiers were evacuated as Saigon fell.
"Everything is so chaos," she recalled. "People just trying to get out of country because they know American soldier gone and no one can protect us."
Bui almost didn't survive the night.
"Woke up, bombing and shooting. Lights shooting through your door. Three or four houses in front of ours just flattened. Bodies, my neighbors, two families all got killed."
She and her family managed to jump on a ship that took them to a refugee camp in Hong Kong. A church got her to America and a couple took care of her and her relatives. They are her heroes.
"I made a promise to them when I get on my feet, able to help myself, I will help other people."
So she studied English, took classes, and earned that nursing degree at 39 years old.
Bui said, "For me, helping people, big contribution, important contribution."
Her contribution came in fabric, thread, time and love. Parents will never forget her name, because she didn't forget their child's.
"It comforts them so much. Ease their pain and I'm really glad I did it."
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