KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Without saying a word, Susan Seagraves makes a lasting impact on families with infants at the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at East Tennessee Children's Hospital.
"One of the first things I take a picture of is the little weight card. I can see how much that baby weights today versus the week before. You're just hoping for a weight gain and progress," Seagraves said.
She started snapping photos of the hospital's tiniest patients in 2016 and continues the ritual every Sunday afternoon.
"Some parents don't know we do it until they're taking the baby home and find out they have a flash drive of pictures. Other parents know and put a bow in their hair on Sunday afternoon," Seagraves said.
On holidays, nurses help Seagraves dress the babies in costumes and hats.
"St. Patrick's Day is a fun one because we can just do green," Seagraves said, adding that for Christmas last year, they wrapped the babies in Santa hats.
With a photo session every week, Seagraves has learned her role is a powerful one of encouragement.
She recalled a moment when one of the nurses asked Seagraves if she would share some of her older photos with a family who was struggling.
"The mom was getting discouraged. The baby was not doing well," Seagraves recalled as she was getting out the pictures she took of the baby months earlier. "The pictures from months earlier, the baby was just a 2-pounder. It didn't even look like a baby. So, of course, mom starts crying, Fran starts crying, I start crying. Being able to document that progress, I was just glad I was able to do that for that mother."
Sometimes, Seagraves' pictures bring about tears for a different reason. When a baby passes away, Seagraves sometimes helps with a special set of photographs to give to the family.
"You hurt for other people. It's a sad situation. At the same time, you feel like you're providing some comfort," Seagraves said.
Helping 'in the moment' is the mentality Seagraves has in all of her volunteer roles at the hospital. She's also a volunteer cuddler.
"Knowing you can't fix the world's problems. You can't do any of the big stuff, but you can help in the moment for that baby. Just to be in that moment and make that moment better," Seagraves said.
Moments she cherishes, whether it's with a calming touch or a lasting picture.
For more information about volunteer opportunities at East Tennessee Children's Hospital, click here.