Melissa and Maya Armstrong

Nov. 17, 2022
A photo of Maya and Melissa Armstrong
Maya and Melissa Armstrong are a dynamo mother-and-daughter volunteer duo. Behind them are photos of Maya, right; and her sister, Sofia Armstrong, left. The photos hang at the entrance of UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital’s NICU.

Volunteering is full circle for this family

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 the place where her life began 17 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 PVH weighing only 1 pound, 15 ounces, and she spent the next 77 days in the neonatal intensive care unit. Though extremely challenging for Melissa and her husband, Steve, the experience 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 speak with other NICU families and encourage 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 C-section. She weighed only 3 pounds.

Sofia spent 47 days in the NICU. Years later, Melissa said, the experience she had in the NICU is ever-present; the emotions are always there. She is forever grateful for her daughter’s nurses and doctors, and she 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 it 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” 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 recently returned to the NICU to help many of the same nurses who had cared for her when she a tiny baby.  In September, 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.”

Maya Armstrong reads to a patient in the UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital NICU. Photo: UCHealth.
Maya Armstrong reads to a patient in the UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital NICU. Photo: UCHealth.

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.”

You Make Extraordinary Possible

Together, we recognize and honor the qualities within ourselves by shining a spotlight on how each and every one of us improve lives in big ways and small.

Share a story

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.