Michele Best Lends a Hand—And an Ear—in the NICU
Michele Best knows what it feels like to be a new parent: anxious, worried you’re messing up, looking for advice and maybe a little reassurance. That’s why as a volunteer with Henry Ford Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), she loves the babies, but her favorite part is connecting with parents—and letting them know everything is going to be alright.
“At the NICU, I have been able to take the many experiences I’ve had in my own life and share them with other people,” says Michele. “My whole philosophy is to give, especially after having her children, it’s about paying life forward to help others.”
Michele grew up in a medical family, and began volunteering as a candy-striper at Miami General, where her father was the chief of urology. As an undergrad at Michigan State University, she met her future husband Tyler, who encouraged her to blaze her own path in life.
After Michele and Tyler married, she found out that she had endometriosis, and was unsure if she would be able to have children. When they later got pregnant, she was thrilled, and today they have four beautiful children. With each successive pregnancy, Michele learned more about her own strength and resilience. As a new mom, she struggled with nursing, but over time, thanks to her persistence and some guidance, Michele mastered the technique. Grateful, and wanting to share her knowledge with others, Michele began volunteering to teach her friends and other community members what she knew.
In 1999, Michele’s third child Chase was born a few weeks early, necessitating a short stay in the hospital’s NICU. While Chase was there, Michele saw firsthand how hard the nurses worked and how much they cared about their tiny patients. She also met other parents, some who had known their child would need to go to NICU after their birth, others for whom it had been a surprise. The experience left a lasting impression on her, as well as a desire to give back.
That is why Michele jumped at the opportunity to volunteer at Henry Ford’s NICU.
“I know the nurses have a lot to do,” she says. “I just wanted to help free up their time so they can do more of what they’re there to do, which is care for the babies,” she says.
On some shifts, Michele stocks the supplies—a necessary task to keep any department running smoothly. Most days, Michele also visits with parents, who sit in the waiting areas with worried faces, sometimes accompanied by their other young children. She knows that sometimes all they need is a kind word from a person who has gone through a similar experience. Other times she brings them snacks or water, knowing that they have been so consumed by thoughts about their baby that they’d neglected their own needs. Some days, with the nurses’ permission, she will talk to the babies in the NICU, or gently touch their heads or feet, letting them know they are loved and giving them the same sense of connection she has with their parents in the waiting room.
In her time volunteering at the NICU, Michele has met parents from all different backgrounds, and regardless of their story or their situation, she treats every new mom and dad with respect and dignity.
“I have met some amazing parents,” she says. “It’s important to go in with a positive attitude, to say hello, to smile. That might be the first one that person has gotten in a long time.”
One particularly memorable experience for Michele was with a baby who had been born addicted to opioids, and who was being treated for withdrawal in the NICU. She saw the child over the course of three months, and each time she came in, he had been crying and inconsolable. Each time, Michele would use the skills she’d honed over the years to miraculously calm him and stop his tears—to the amazement of the nursing staff.
“I learned how to swaddle him to give him comfort and make him stop crying,” she says. “It was one of those moments that felt so good.”
Michele says that there have been many affirming and heart-warming moments throughout her time in the NICU. That is not to say that there are never anxious or harrowing ones—but Michele is not easily phased.
“I know about these emotions firsthand, as a mother of four myself,” she says. “Happily, almost all of the infants get better and leave the NICU to go home to loving families.”
Michele feels fulfilled knowing that she can make a difference in the lives of the parents, babies, and even nurses in the NICU—a difference that no doubt leaves a lasting impression on those she has helped.
“Volunteering been a huge experience. I just ask how I can help,” says Michele. “Even on the crazy days, it’s a blessing, and a great opportunity to give back.”