YAMILE JACKSON designs nurturing device for premature babies

As she looked down at her little boy –  who at just 1 pound, 15 ounces was no bigger than the palm of her hand – behind the glass of the incubator, Yamile Jackson felt a deep sorrow unlike anything she had ever experienced. She – who had held top posts at one of the largest engineer construction companies in the world, who had undergone years of education to receive earn her PhD in engineering, yes, she who owned her very own ergonomics consulting firm – had failed to accomplish what she had formerly considered would be her easiest accomplishment to date: giving birth to a healthy baby.

At that moment, looking down through tear-filled eyes at her new son Zachary, Jackson wished she could trade it all for the chance to stroke Zach, to comfort him as he struggled to take the breaths that would give him life. But as she did so, she found her analytical mind racing. What could she do to make increase the odds that would help Zach – a tiny baby, born 12 weeks premature – grow up to become a healthy boy?

“He was born to save my life,” recalls Jackson, who suffered from severe preeclampsia prior to giving birth to Zachary via caesarean section. “So I felt that I had to do everything in my power to help him. He wasn’t just one of the 500,000 premature babies born every year in the United States – this was my baby, my life.”

She thought of what she could do. During the hours spent looking at her baby boy from across the glass in the Intensive Care Unit, Jackson – who was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia – always hesitated when after an exhausting day spent at the hospital, she was told to leave the premises. “What happens to him when I was gone?” she wondered. And recalling the comforting touch of her own mother and wishing to impart that healing power to remove pain, she began to leave a small gardening glove with her baby. Rich with her scent and silky-soft to the touch, it mimicked the tender touch of her hand and imparted that all-important sense of a mother’s comfort.

“The glove was something small that we could leave with him so that he wouldn’t feel abandoned,” says Jackson. “I didn’t know anything about being the parent of such a small, sick baby, but what I did know what was I wanted my child to feel connected to me even if I wasn’t there.”

And then the worst happened. Tropical Storm Allison arrived and in its wake left the Houston hospital where Zach was a convalescent patient without electricity. For nine hours before being evacuated, Jackson clutched her baby while her husband Larry and nurses alternated giving Zach manual breaths because the ventilator weren’t working. She then made a promise. She would not only help Zach, but help all premature babies and would do it on his behalf – not his memory.

And so, weeks after the hospital evacuation, when nurses called asking about the small gardening glove that had offered Zach so much comfort leading up to the flood,  Dr. Jackson was ready to tackle the challenge. She prepared 100 gloves for the NICU hospital 2001 and immediately delved into three years of exhaustive research and ergonomic model testing.

Since launching Nurtured by Design, Inc. in 2001, more than 40,000 Zakys have been produced and are in use in over 300 hospitals in the United States and around the world.

Jackson has donated nearly 12,000 of the gloves. Recently, an observational study found that babies with the Zakys do better than those without, reporting that they had significant improved self-regulation – a mechanism that enables babies to help increase weight gain, improve bonding and sleep better all due in part to the comforting scent of their mother.

“We are only company on market who provides evidence based tools to improve the life of premature babies,” says Jackson, who oversees 5 part-time employees at Nurtured by Design. Anyone can now buy a Zaky and for Jackson, the greatest testament to her product is her only son, Zachary – who is now 11 years old, happy and healthy. Jackson affectionately calls her macaroni and cheese-loving son her CIO – her Chief Inspirational Officer.

“I put my engineering hat on to develop the Zakys but unlike anything I’d ever tackled as a project engineer, this product was born from my experience as a Latina and a mother,” says Jackson.

“And with that, my profits aren’t measured in dollars. It’s measured by the number of lives I can help. I want preemies to know the joy of a hug their entire life.”

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