Brooke Smith and her parents, Jamie and Chuck Smith, visit Community Hospital to donate gift bags to members of the hospital’s NICU, from left, Tracy Sharp, Kathy Huyser and Mary VanCuren.
Little Warrior” is one of the names almost 10-year-old Brooke Smith wrote on care bags that she recently dropped off for babies and their families in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Community Hospital.
On Feb. 10, 2013, Brooke herself claimed that moniker, and it has served her well on her journey to help others.
Brooke spent four days in Community’s NICU after being born with a fever. Her mother, Jamie, also suffered from a fever during labor. Brooke spent the first days of her life in the NICU, undergoing a series of tests to make sure everything was OK.
“Brooke is my first and only,” Jamie Smith said. “She was born on the 10th, and we left on Valentine’s Day – the 14th.”
Valentine’s Day – a day to celebrate love – seemed like the perfect day to be released from the hospital and into the comfort of home and family. Though, Jamie said, the days spent in the NICU felt like she, her husband, Chuck, and Brooke were with a newfound family.
“What was extraordinary was everyone at Community Hospital took care of us like we were family,” Jamie said. “From the first interaction with the nursing staff and the doctors, there was no question that everyone was there to make sure our little one was taken care of and watched over closely. The nurses were incredible. The staff was incredible. The whole family approach was just resounding.”
Brooke has spent the past four years giving back to others. She started Project Gee — named after her favorite stuff animal — after volunteering for a Ronald McDonald House event in 2019. This year, she wanted to donate to Community Hospital’s NICU.
“We thought about all of the parents in the NICU, and how it’s hard because some babies have to stay there for a while,” Brooke said. “We thought that around my 10th birthday it would be a perfect time to give care bags to (Community Hospital’s NICU).”
Brooke and her parents recently delivered the 30 care bags filled with snacks and motivational messages to Community Hospital NICU nurse manager Tracy Sharp, clinical team leader Mary VanCuren and charge nurse Kathy Huyser, who was one of Brooke’s nurses in 2013.
“It’s always a joy to see babies born at Community Hospital’s NICU grow into healthy and happy children,” Huyser said. “Brooke is an inspiration. We are grateful for her thoughtful and caring donation. It’s just amazing to see so much good come from someone so young and so determined to help others,” Sharp said. “This donation with help put a smile on the faces of the families with newborns in our NICU.”
Brooke said her goal is to get other children involved with the good work Project Gee does. “It’s a simple activity and a way to help people in challenging times,” Jamie said.
To learn more about the services offered at the hospitals of Community Healthcare System — Community Hospital in Munster, St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart, St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago and Community Stroke & Rehabilitation Center in Crown Point — visit COMHS.org.