UAMS NICU Holds Read-A-Thon to Promote Story Time for Families

By Katrina Dupins

That’s why the UAMS neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) recently organized its first Read-A-Thon with patients and their families. The weeklong event lead up to World Prematurity Day, Nov. 17.


Sara Peeples, M.D. looks at books on the NICU Book Mobile.

There have always been books available in the NICU for parents to grab and read to their babies, but this year employees have been intentional about organizing and adding to the supply. There is now a bookshelf that serves as a library for the unit and a mobile cart decorated by patient services coordinator, Marilyn Allen.

For the Read-A-Thon, every patient’s door was decorated with purple ribbons. For each book read, NICU workers added a decorative indicator to the door. It served as encouragement to other families, as well as a friendly competition. By the end of the week, there were two winners. Sophia Zavali, with 120 books, won the girls’ division. Samuel Winton won the boys’ division with 23 books.

girl winner

Sophia Zavali won the girl’s division for the NICU Read-A-Thon.

“Anything we can do to improve development, to support family involvement, and normalize the NICU experience is really important,” said Sara Peeples, M.D., medical director of the UAMS NICU. “Reading to babies gives parents an active part in their babies’ care even though they’re in the hospital.

Catholic High Senior Ethan Ball organized a book drive to help fill the shelves and cart.

Ball, 17, was born when his mother was 28 weeks pregnant. He weighed 2 lbs., 6 oz. and spent nearly three months in the NICU at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. His medical team expected he would have developmental delays, but Ball is an avid reader and does well academically.

His parents read to him constantly from the time he was born. His mother, Carrie Calhoon, works in health care and found herself worrying about his vital signs when she’d come to see him.

Ethan Ball

Ball reads to his baby cousin.

“My husband didn’t pay much attention to that. He’d pick up a book and start reading to him,” Calhoon said. “You could see Ethan’s numbers improve as he was read to. It was incredible to watch.”

Ball knew he had spent time in the NICU as a baby, but he never thought about what that meant until his cousin was born prematurely in January.

“I wouldn’t be the same person I am today if my parents reading to me hadn’t been part of my life,” Ball said.  “Now that I’m older, I can see how hard that can be for parents.”

That’s why Ball decided he would help by sharing with NICU families the love he has for books. For the past few months, he has been collecting new and gently used children’s books. He received dozens from his youth group, friends and family members as well as monetary donations.

Ethan cart

Ball brings a cart of books to the UAMS NICU.

“I set up a Venmo account and set up a wish list on Amazon with all different types of books,” Ball said. “I eventually went to Barnes & Noble with my family. We went to the kids’ section and had so much fun picking them out.”

Ball says they even got books for patients with older siblings to enjoy.

“We thank Ethan and his friends for the work that they did in supporting our program. Our babies and families absolutely will benefit from that,” Peeples said.

The NICU is accepting donations for their library. Books can be delivered to 4301 W. Markham Street, Slot #526, Little Rock, AR 72205.