Cradling the Futures of High-Risk Babies

June 15, 2017

By Karel Lucander

A photo of Sister Cecile Sakaley, RSM

Sister Cecile Sakaley

While the inner city pulses outside the hospital, Sister Cecile Sakaley calms a colicky and crying newborn, holding him tightly in her arms. This infant, like many she comforts, is going through drug withdrawal. His mother is an addict, and his life has begun with a struggle.

“You have to hold these babies really tight to you,” she says. “Many cry and have tremors and are given Methadone and weaned off gradually.”

Helping Newborns Undergoing Withdrawal

As mission and family services coordinator at Mercy Health – Children’s Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, since 2008, this is what Sister Cecile spends much of her day doing and what she calls “my dream job.”

“Our NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] rarely has a day without a withdrawal baby,” she says. “These are the babies that need a lot of help. Because of their suffering, I’m so drawn to them … they need it the most, to be loved and held. I also work with moms who are going through withdrawal. They have to comply with community resources to assist them with withdrawal. Some give up their babies because they can’t take care of them, but others hope for reunifications.”

In her current ministry, Sister Cecile helps with premature babies and pediatric patients. Accompanying mothers to ultrasounds, being a Eucharistic Minister to patients, and helping school-age patients keep up with their studies are just a few of her responsibilities.

Many Multiple Births

Working at the region’s primary trauma center, Sister Cecile says she sees many multiple births (“we always have twins”). Once, she worked with a woman who was addicted and gave birth to triplets. Because her smallest baby (19 ounces) did not have parents/visitors interacting with her, Sister Cecile became her “primary bonder.” She constantly held the baby, who was suspected to be deaf and blind because she made no eye contact. After a day, the tiny girl looked Sister Cecile in the eyes and then began looking at everyone.

“She was never blind or deaf,” Sister Cecile says. “In six months she was moved to pediatrics where she was nicknamed ‘Miss Nosey’ because she didn’t want to miss anything. She was later reunited with her triplet siblings and her grandmother.”

Finding her Niche

An image of a mandala

When she is not at Mercy Health – Children’s Hospital, Sister Cecile enjoys drawing mandalas.

For more than four decades, Sister Cecile ministered as a teacher and principal. During her sabbatical in 2007 she realized her passion was working with abandoned, abused and neglected children. When she started at Mercy Health – Children’s Hospital, she began tutoring school-age patients with serious illnesses such as cancer. But God had other plans. There were not enough patients with this need, so the hospital administrator told Sister Cecile to “go find your niche, and we’ll rewrite your job description in three months.” She says, “People started asking me to do things and I always said yes. By the end of three months my job description covered labor and delivery, NICU, pediatrics and much more.

Volunteers as a Cuddler

When she is not on duty, Sister Cecile is still drawn to the NICU. Every other weekend she volunteers as a “cuddler,” cradling more infants. “When I hear babies crying I always say, ‘That’s music to my ears!’”

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