Catch the Moelters on a typical outing, and you might find the family of six hitting the road for fun and adventure. “We spend a lot of time together,” said mom Ashleigh. “We embrace every moment we’ve been given.”
Ashleigh Moelter works in the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) as the family-care coordinator. She comes to the role naturally—all four of her own children were patients in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Five-year-old twins Christopher and McKenna spent five months and seven months there, respectively. Jack, age 3, was there for two weeks, and Cooper, 1, went home after seven weeks. But, Ashleigh said, it doesn’t matter how much time your child spends in the NICU: “Any stay in the NICU affects you for the rest of your life as a parent.”
More than 80 March of Dimes–supported NICU Family Support programs are scattered throughout the United States, but there are just two in Minnesota—one under University of Minnesota Health and the other in St. Cloud.
Ashleigh works 30 hours a week in the NICU Family Support program, connecting parents to myriad nonmedical resources, including education, activities and other parents who’ve been through the NICU experience. “So many parents feel so alone,” she said. “Things like this aren’t supposed to happen, and people don’t understand. It’s kind of an out-of-body experience.”
A champion of the NICU doctors and nurses, Ashleigh also commends University of Minnesota Health for its emphasis on pediatric research. “Prematurity happens in one in nine births,” she said. “The research helps find different ways to help those babies be successful in life.”
Juggling jobs and four children—some of whom have special needs—means Ashleigh and her husband, Chris, rarely take a date night. But they do find time each May to join 14 other couples, all of whom met in the NICU, at the annual WineFest fundraiser for University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
“We start [planning] way in advance—even going dress shopping,” Ashleigh says. “We make it a time to see each other. Everybody goes to WineFest.”