Anna Brings Smiles, Joy and Costumes to the NICU

Nov 17 2023

Anna Bialkowski, RN, BSN, IBCLC, (pictured above, right) always knew that she wanted to help others.

In college, she switched her major to nursing from psychology after helping take care of an elderly neighbor. She then realized early on that she wanted to work in pediatrics with neonatal patients.

As of today, Anna has been with our ministry for four years as a registered nurse in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Bon Secours – St. Mary’s Hospital – the same hospital where she was born.

“No matter how long a patient is with us or how critical they may be, a NICU stay can be very stressful,” Anna explains. “The most rewarding part of my job is being able to make a difference in the lives of my patients and their families while they are with us.”

Outside of work, Anna is passionate about designing and creating costumes. Her love of design started in high school, where her theatre teacher offered her a job working backstage at the summer shows for Richmond Shakespeare. She has been there ever since and has expanded her work to include costume design.

In fact, Anna recently won the Richmond Theatre Critics Choice Award for Outstanding Costume Design for her costumes that she designed and created for Uncle Vanya with Richmond Shakespeare Theatre, which showed last January.

“I love creating the costumes and the process of bringing the designs to life,” Anna shares.

Then, during the COVID-19 pandemic, theatres couldn’t give live performances, and Anna missed having a creative outlet. For Halloween that year, Anna decided to make costumes for babies in the NICU. This gave her a new creative project and, most importantly, brought some cheer to the NICU families.

“Having a baby in the NICU around any holiday can be tough for families because it’s hard to celebrate while in the hospital,” Anna says. “I loved making those costumes, and the response was so great that I continued to make hats for every holiday.”

Anna crochets costumes in sizes that range from 1 to 15 pounds for each holiday. The costumes also align with the holiday-themed footprint cards that our NICU team members make for the parents – who then get to see their babies dressing up in a costume for Halloween, visiting Santa with an elf hat, celebrating Easter as bunnies and chicks or wearing a Star Wars hat for May the Fourth.

“We were able to give these families a moment of normalcy during what can be a very challenging time,” Anna shares. “Any little thing we can do to help them have a good day makes a huge difference in their stay.”

What started out as Anna providing cute, crocheted costumes has continued to grow within the unit. Whether crocheting hats, doing footprint cards before a holiday or asking Santa (aka St. Mary’s Hospital head of security) to take family holiday photos, the entire unit plays a role in creating these special moments.

“Cara Kasten, a fellow nurse, is helping out with the crocheting, so we are able to do a little more this year,” Anna shares. “Since she is helping out, I am able to focus on some costumes that are more complex and take more time, like princess dresses. Our goal is to do a little more each year, and this year we were able to do photo shoots with the babies for the Fourth of July with our crocheted hats, diaper covers and props. We weren’t able to do a photo shoot for the fourth the previous years.”

Anna adds, “We’re providing lifelong memories and keepsakes for these families. Every year we’re able to do a little more and provide more moments of joy for our families. It’s my hope that these families look back at these items and smile at the memories.”

This holiday season, we are celebrating by spreading the good news! Read more thankful stories, like this one, that feature our team members, patients and the wonderful communities we are blessed to serve.

Also, learn about the health care services we provide at Bon Secours.  

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