Niswonger Children’s Hospital | News Article

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Johnson City couple donates $100,000 to create new program aimed at helping NAS babies at Niswonger Children’s Hospital

Nancy and Mike Christian (center) with Anthony Keck (left), Mountain States SVP/chief development officer and the president of Mountain States Foundation, and Lisa Carter (right), CEO of Niswonger Children's Hospital.JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – When Mike and Nancy Christian walked into the special care unit at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, they knew they wanted to make a difference there.

The 17-room unit houses and cares for babies who were exposed to addictive substances before birth and are suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Babies with NAS often have high pitched cries, suffer from tremors and have difficulty eating as they go through withdrawal.

“Walking inside that unit was a real awakening,” said Mike Christian. “To hear their cries and think about what those poor babies are going through is heartbreaking. I don’t think we could do anything better with our money than to help them.”

The Christians decided to make a generous donation of $100,000, which will fund the creation of the Families Thrive program at Niswonger. Families Thrive will support the mothers of babies in the special care unit in a variety of ways, including:

  • In-hospital parenting support

Families of NAS babies will get one-on-one and group parenting support. Specialists will encourage bonding between the mother and child to promote breast feeding, skin-to-skin contact and other evidence-based practices.

  • Medical and social navigation

A family specialist will be on-site in the NAS unit five days week, and will develop a post-discharge plan to help families connect with the pediatricians and medical services they need, as well as community social supports. These services may include temporary housing, domestic violence counseling, WIC, Medicaid and food stamps, group parenting classes, legal advice, medication-assisted therapy for addiction, and faith-based support groups. Specialists will follow-up with families for at least six months after discharge.

  •  Educational materials & supplies

Additional educational materials and any needed supplies will be sent home with families after they’re discharged from the hospital.

The goal of Families Thrive is to decrease child abuse cases and accidental deaths among NAS babies after they leave the hospital, along with decreasing readmissions of NAS babies to Niswonger and decreasing the number of NAS babies who are removed from their homes and placed into foster care.

NAS occurs when babies are born dependent to prescribed medications or illicit substances that the mother has used during pregnancy. Before birth, the baby is exposed through the placenta, and after delivery, he or she experiences withdrawal symptoms. Opioids or benzodiazepines are the most common medications that cause NAS, but other drugs, both legal and illicit, may also be the cause.

The special care unit opened in May, and was created in response to the region-wide epidemic of babies being born with NAS. Money raised by the Mountain States Foundation through the 2016 Niswonger Children’s Hospital Radiothon and other fundraisers made the $500,000 project possible.

“Mike and Nancy were so deeply moved by the suffering of babies born with NAS, and they knew they wanted to do something that would have a huge impact on the lives of these children” said Anthony Keck, Mountain States Health Alliance senior vice president and chief development officer, and president of the Mountain States Foundation. “We are extremely grateful for their generosity, which will make such a difference in this community.”

The Christians’ donation officially kicks off the 2018 Niswonger Children’s Hospital Radiothon, which benefits the region’s only children’s hospital. Funds raised through the 2018 radiothon will be used for a variety of needs in the children’s hospital.

“My wife and I are pleased to be able to help the children’s hospital in this way, and would like to encourage others to help as they can,” said Christian. “Nancy and I may be $100,000 poorer, but we’re far, far richer knowing our money is going to help the children of this region.”

To learn more about the Niswonger Children’s Radiothon, visit