Maya Armstrong is a busy teenager. She has a part-time job. She sings in the choir. And she volunteers as a peer counselor at Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins. She’s also applying for admission to colleges. Nevertheless, no matter how busy she is, she always makes time — along with her mother, Melissa — to give back to where her life began 18 years ago.
“Volunteering at Poudre Valley Hospital is full circle for us and such a privilege,” Maya said. “PVH is important and is a special part of our lives.”
In 2005, when Melissa was 27 weeks pregnant with Maya, her first daughter, she was diagnosed with preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome (hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelets). Maya was born at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital, weighing only 1 pound, 15 ounces, and spent the next 77 days in the neonatal intensive care unit. Though extremely challenging for Melissa and her husband, Steve, Maya’s challenging birth inspired Melissa to become a hospital volunteer.
Over the years, Melissa has volunteered at PVH and served on the NICU Family Advisory Council. She has dedicated time to speaking with other NICU families and encouraging them. In 2009, while 31 weeks pregnant with Sofia, her second daughter, Melissa was scheduled to give a talk when her health rapidly deteriorated. Sofia had to be delivered via emergency cesarean section. She weighed only 3 pounds.
Sofia spent 47 days in the NICU. Years later, Melissa said, her experience in the NICU is ever-present; emotions are always there. She is forever grateful for her daughter’s nurses and doctors and continues to feel that gratitude when volunteering.
“It is my Zen time for the week,” Melissa said. “I know how much they value volunteers. It helps their workload and is very rewarding and purposeful.”
When Maya was old enough, she followed her mother’s lead. Maya first applied to be a UCHealth “volun-teen” program in the fall of 2019 but could not volunteer until 2022, when COVID-19 restrictions lifted. She now spends a few hours each Monday restocking drinks and snacks in hospital units.
Maya also returned to the NICU to help many of the same nurses who had cared for her as a tiny baby. In September 2022, Maya spent a day reading stories to the tiniest patients as part of the international Babies with Books Read-a-thon challenge.
“It was one of my favorite days,” Maya said. “To sit and read with them was so meaningful. I even saw the nurses who cared for me, which was super special.”
Melissa’s daughters have thrived since their days in the NICU.
“We are proud of the woman Maya’s becoming. She’s a light, and we are honored to be her and Sofia’s parents,” Melissa said.
Melissa plans to continue volunteering as Maya heads off to college. Sofia plans to apply to be a “volun-teen” once she’s old enough.
“We have such gratitude for PVH and the staff, everyone there,” Melissa said. “We can’t repay them for all they’ve done, but we are happy to have that small piece in their week.”