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This family lost their premature baby, but is still doing what they can to help other NICU patients

PITTSBURGH — This family lost their premature baby, but is still doing what they can to help other NICU patients

A mother’s love knows no bounds, but being in the NICU can certainly make it challenging to give newborns that kind love in person all hours of the day.

“It was a really intense situation,” said mom Maria Mangano. “Stressful on many accounts.”

Neil Rollinson was born on March 19, 2020 at UPMC Magee Women’s Hospital, right at the beginning of the pandemic. He was born three months early and spent 87 days in the NICU. Because of pandemic restrictions, mom Maria and her husband, Dave Rollinson, were the only ones able to be in the NICU with Neil.

“I think about how hard it was for us. Imagine if we couldn’t have gone in,” said Melanie Finnigan.

Melanie and her husband Christopher know the NICU at Magee well. Their son, Liam, was born Nov. 21, 2008, three months premature. While in the NICU, his lungs struggled to grow. Melanie says he had the best doctors and nurses there supporting him.

“It came to a point where we had to make a decision. They said he wasn’t going to get any better,” said Christopher.

Liam passed away after three months in the NICU. It took a few years after his passing for the Finnigans to decide how to best honor their son.

“Liam just loved his music. He really did,” said Melanie. “I had this little CD player and I used to play it when I was there.”

The Liam Finnigan Music Program was born to bring that same joy to other babies in the NICU at Magee when their families cannot be there. Since September, the Finnigans have been funding sleep soothers that play music, sounds, or recorded voices. They’re the perfect company for babies during the pandemic.

Since Maria and Dave’s older son, Amos, wasn’t able to meet his baby brother while he was in the NICU, he recorded his favorite book for Neil on the soother.

“Particularly familiar voices, like parents or siblings, it’s going to have that calming effect. So not only are they going to get that language exposure for their later language development, but it’s also a comforting voice that they’re hearing,” said Caitlyn Baum, developmental specialist at Magee.

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And when Neil got to finally come home in mid-June, Maria says the bond between the boys was already there.

“You can tell. I feel like Neil really looks the most at Amos,” said Maria. “He smiles the most at Amos. He knows that Amos is not a grownup and I think that is certainly because he recognizes his voice. "

“See that’s amazing,” said Melanie. “I don’t know how we could ever know it would go to that. It means a lot to me.”

Melanie and Christopher hope to expand the music program further within UPMC because they know it’s working.

“Nothing that we can do will bring him back or make it whole again,” said Melanie. “It makes us feel good to do something in his honor, but that can help other babies.”