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23 October 2020 | Story Andre Damons | Photo Supplied
Dr Potgieter and her team from Beanies4Babies are with women from Westerbloem retirement village, who knit the beanies and socks.

A passion for neonates, especially premature babies, led to an alumna from the University of the Free State (UFS) to co-found Beanies4Babies, an NPO  which provides knitted beanies and socks to all babies admitted to the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) in public hospitals.
Dr Johané Potgieter, a first-year medical intern and co-founder of Beanies4babies, says neonates, especially premature babies, are unable to generate their own heat, and thus are dependent of additional measures to warm them. They have a larger head-to-body surface area which increases their risk for heat loss if the head is not covered. 
According to Dr Potgieter these little miracles have to use all their energy to grow stronger and fight infection instead of generating heat to prevent them from getting too cold. During her studies she was fortunate to learn vital lessons from passionate and vibrant doctors and sisters. One of them, Sr Vanessa Booysen, lit the fire in her heart for neonates, more specifically premature babies, she says.
Need to prevention hypothermia in premature babies and neonates
The dream started in 2018, when she was a 4th-year medical student, doing her first call in the NICU at Pelonomi Tertiary Hospital. “I noticed the need for additional measures to prevent hypothermia in neonates and was eager to actively combat it. I had an amazing idea for a new project, which sadly had little support. I shared my thoughts with my friend, now co-founder, Clarette Cronje.”
“It was challenging, everyone thought this was going to be a once-off donation. However, I knew my dream was too big for limitations like this. After numerous attempts and failures, a door finally opened to liaise with the Mother and Child Academic Hospital (MACAH) Foundation. As they say: ‘Fall seven times, stand up eight’,” says Dr Potgieter. 
The NPO currently provides about 300 packages of knitted beanies and socks a month to all neonates admitted to the NICU in the public hospitals in Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth. 
The aim is to expand the project nationwide, and according to Dr Potgieter, they are also are launching it in January at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, where she now works. 
A need exists 
Dr Potgieter says they had always trusted and hoped for something that would change lives but had never imagined it would be on such a scale.  
“There is a need for beanies and socks for these premature babies. We come face to face with this daily and have only scratched the surface. Global statistics for premature births are one in every 10 births. National statistics are one in every seven births. 
“Premature and newborn babies cannot generate their own heat through shivering or adding additional layers of clothing to their skin. They are exposed to the surrounding air and objects, increasing their risk for heat loss. They lose a great deal of heat from their heads, making it of critical importance to cover their heads. A large number of our mothers go into premature labour, with an earlier due date than planned, arriving in an ambulance without a newborn’s clothes. So it is clear that a bigger hand is driving this project,” says Dr Potgieter. 
Also involve the elderly
Beanies4Babies not only focuses on supporting neonates, but also involves the elderly in the community who knit the products for project. “The angels at the old age homes eagerly knit away. But they need wool. Donations for wool and packaging are needed to service hospitals in three provinces (Free State, Eastern Cape and Gauteng).”
“Volunteers and financial support are also needed as operations have been scaled up to ensure efficiency.”
Says Dr Potgieter: “We are privileged to have a dynamic team of doctors, students, sisters and allied health professionals who support our project.”
Beanies4Babies now functions as one of the First 1000 days projects of the MACAH Foundation that aims to optimise the future for the young generation. 
“I am blessed to have the opportunity to do what I love and that is to make a difference.” 

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