A 14-year-old Girl Scout in Suwanee, Georgia is giving back to the hospital that saved her brother’s life.
When Anoushka Talwar’s brother Shiv, now 6, was born premature at 26 weeks, she would visit him every day in the neonatal intensive care unit at Emory Johns Creek Hospital and read him stories.
It was a soothing ritual Anoushka’s father Aashish did with her when she was born premature at 27 weeks and had to spend three months in an incubator.
“It really helped us bond,” she tells PEOPLE.
Now, Anoushka is helping other preemie families find comfort during a difficult time.
For her Girl Scouts service project, the teenager knocked on her neighbors’ doors and collected about 450 children’s books for the NICU units at Scottish Rite Hospital of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory Johns Creek Hospital.
“It’s an issue very close to my heart, so I wanted to do something to help,” she says.
Working with March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization focused on improving health conditions for mothers and their babies, Anoushka opened two mini-libraries and organized care packages for parents of preemies to take home with them.
Several studies have found that talking with premature babies can greatly help their language development and connection with their parents.
Emory Johns Creek Hospital has encouraged parents and staff to talk to babies in the NICU unit for several years now, but not all families are comfortable doing so, Christine Wollenhaup, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and the Director of Women’s Services at Emory Johns Creek Hospital, tells PEOPLE.
The mini-library Anoushka built has helped boost this initiative, she adds.
“We didn’t have many books available for this purpose, so this new addition was a welcomed surprise,” she says. “The staff and families are very appreciative.”
Anoushka’s work has been recognized on a national scale, too: the project recently earned her a Girl Scout Silver Award, one of the highest honors a member can receive.
The ambitious teenager says she hopes to continue the project when the coronavirus pandemic subsides and it is safe to visit hospitals again.
In the meantime, families who deliver and care for preemie babies in these two Georgia hospitals might smile if they stumble across one of Anoushka’s books.
Inside each book, she has stamped an inspirational message: “Be Strong.”
“It’s the motto my parents followed when I was fighting for my life,” she says. “I hope the books will help parents bond a little more with their children — and show them that their kids can grow up and make a difference too.”
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