By:  Bill Neagus, Farmington Rotary Club
from "The Tunxis Tattler"
Farmington President-elect Mecheal Hamilton, who is steering the web camera project, said she originally got the idea after hearing Roy Balfour of the Shrewsbury, Mass., Rotary Club talk at the Rotary President-Elect Training Session (PETS) recently. Roy gave a presentation at PETS about how the Rotary Clubs of Central Massachusetts were able to fundraise and purchase cameras for the NICU at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Memorial Health Center in Worcester, Mass.
Energized by the idea, she talked with her fellow president-elects from Central Connecticut (Area Nine) about replicating the Massachusetts success at the UConn Health Center. The other president-elects shared Mecheal’s enthusiasm, launching the first area-wide project in recent years. The other president-elects in addition to Mecheal are:
  • Salin Low of Avon-Canton;
  • Steve Vaughn of Hartford;
  • Ed Silverstein of Newington;
  • Cynthia Lang of West Hartford; and
  • Gina Herboldt of Wethersfield.
Roy Balfour gave us a similar presentation at the April 29 luncheon as he did at PETS. He explained the project, called NicView, fits perfectly with Rotary’s purpose of public service.  While web cameras can be purchased much less expensively, Roy said that the cameras cost $2,000 each because of the special needs of the hospital related to mounting and connecting the equipment.
With the help of 13 Rotary clubs in Massachusetts, plus an organization called the EvvGirl Foundation, all 49 incubators at the UMass Memorial NICU are equipped with the special web cameras, allowing family and friends of sick babies to watch the infants as they sleep, eat, and be awake. Roy noted that there is an average of 3,000 logins per month, some from as far away as servicemen serving in Afghanistan.
“New families have a link with their infants even when the family is at home or at work,” said Roy.
During the first four months of the NicView project UMass Memorial, six cameras were installed and 60 families were able to keep close watch over their infants.
The EvvGirl Foundation was founded in memory of Evan Bard, a student at Curry College who was killed in a car crash a year ago. Her father, Todd Bard, said the foundation is dedicated to the NicView project because of his daughter’s passion for and love of children. He explained the foundation works to get corporate sponsorship for the web cameras, to move the completion of the project forward.
“We want to put web cameras in every NICU in New England,” said Todd, who added that eventually the foundation wants to expand the project so that families of cancer patients can use web cameras too.
Dr. Victor C. Herson, chief of service and medical director of the UConn NICU, said it’s true that the NICU has a large budget, but if he were to ask the hospital administration for $100,000 - $200,000 to purchase web cameras for the 40 incubators at the UConn NICU and the 32 incubators at the Connecticut Children’s NICU, he would likely be turned down. He explained the priority is for life-saving equipment, which is also extremely expensive.
Nevertheless, Dr. Herson said, bringing comfort to the families of sick babies by connecting them to their children via the Internet is still extremely valuable and worthwhile.
In fact, Roy talked about a Massachusetts mother who just last week brought her baby to a Rotary meeting to thank the Rotarians for donating the camera that allowed her to bond with her infant.
Roy elaborated that the video display on each web camera will list the individual Rotary Club and corporate sponsor that purchased the camera. As a result, he said, the membership of the Worcester Rotary Club alone jumped from 42 members before it began the project to 110 members today.  He added that on every display there is also a “donate” button that allows contributions to continue for maintenance and eventual replacement of the cameras.
“Thank you for identifying this as a goal,” said Dr. Herson. 


With Irene Engel, our resident fundraising wizard and member of the UConn Health Center Auxiliary in front, the four speakers who introduced The Area Nine Rotary Clubs to the NicView Project on April 29 are, from left, Dr. Victor C. Herson, medical director of the UConn Health Center Neo-Natal Intensive Care United (NICU); Todd Bard, founder of the EvvGirl Foundation; Roy Balfour of the Shrewsbury, Mass., Rotary Club; and Mecheal Hamilton, president-elect of the Rotary Club of Farmington. The goal of the NicView project is to install web cameras in the UConn NICU to help parents of sick babies bond with their children.