Kaleb “Baby Buns” Graves was born in 2015 at 23 weeks in his mom Dana’s pregnancy. Weighing just 13 oz, Kaleb was given less than a 1% chance of survival. His parents, Arkell and Dana, spent 356 days with him in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Children’s Hospital. Kaleb’s journey inspired the Graves to create the Baby Buns for Life Network to help support other families with premature babies.
“When we saw others that were less fortunate than ourselves, [and] when my wife brought up the idea to help others, I thought it was a good idea,” Arkell Graves told People magazine. The Graves mission: to educate and inspire other NICU families, showing them health and happiness are possible.
“I don’t care if it’s one day or 300 days, when you have a child in NICU every day seems like eternity,” Dana Graves told People magazine, who knew how important it was to have someone — especially someone with whom they could relate — to talk about what their family was going through.
So why the name Baby Buns? A video of Dana telling her husband of 17 years she had “buns in the oven” went viral on social media when, after years of infertility, four miscarriages and a stillbirth, she learned she was pregnant.
The donation-based Baby Buns for Life Network provides families with care packages containing hand sanitizers, lotions and snacks. With family needs in mind, the foundation also shares catered meals, preemie-sized clothing and blankets. And, through partnerships with March of Dimes, March for Babies and the Virginia Special Olympics, additional education and social services geared towards families with premature babies are offered.
“Our families are often here around the clock with their babies,” Sharon Cone, nurse manager of the VCU Children’s Hospital’s NICU tells Parentology. “Comfort items and hot meals can help make the hospital feel more like home for families.”
The Network fills a significant need for expecting families. More than 80% of preterm births are unanticipated, and medical expenses for a baby born prematurely average about $54,000, compared with $4,000 for a healthy, full-term newborn.
Today, Kaleb “Baby Buns” Graves is four years old. Despite 14 active diagnoses, including cerebral palsy and tracheomalacia, he entered preschool this year.