Baby Archie’s legacy lives on through the power of books

A remarkable family’s determination to bring comfort to others following their own devastating loss is helping overwhelmed parents in Netcare’s neonatal and other intensive care units to connect with their babies through the gift of purposeful reading.

Archie’s Archives is an initiative founded by the Hein family which provides parents whose babies and toddlers are admitted for intensive care with a pack of books that have been lovingly selected and donated by volunteers, for them to read to their little ones and to take home. 

“Research shows that the sound of a parent’s voice is not only very reassuring to a baby but has enormous cognitive benefits. Archie’s Archives is a tangible way of ensuring families are empowered to contribute to the care that their babies receive while hospitalised,” says Verena Bolton, a neonatal nurse and national co-ordinator of Netcare Ncelisa human milk banks.

“It was therefore with open arms that Netcare embraced the offer that was so generously made by the Hein family to install Archie’s Archives in the neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) and cardiothoracic intensive care units (CTICUs) in our hospitals. These standalone archives are cleverly designed to maintain the strictest hygiene standards and do not act as a shared library but rather a stock of pre-packed, sealed bundles of gifted books to help encourage parents to read to their little ones, enhancing connection and bonding during this time.” 

Tiffini Hein, co-founder of Archie’s Archives, explains that the initiative was born out of her and her husband Richard’s experience with their baby boy, Archie, who was diagnosed with neonatal Marfan syndrome: a rare connective tissue disorder that tragically resulted in the loss of his life within a matter of months.

“Archie was born on 16 August 2022 at 37 weeks. As an already experienced mother of five children – two of whom are biological – I could immediately sense by the energy in the delivery room that something was not quite right. He was taken straight to the NICU, where intensive investigations into what could be impacting his health started.

“On the ninth day, Archie was transferred to Netcare Sunninghill Hospital where there is a dedicated paediatric cardiothoracic intensive care unit, and two days later his CT scan revealed a dissection in his aorta – nothing more could be done.”

Tiffini notes that at this point they had as yet been unable to even hold their son because of his fragile condition, and they spent the next two days crying next to Archie’s cot. 

“We were in the grips of grief when Richard said that enough was enough – we could not allow Archie’s experience of the world to be two sad people in a hospital, so to pull ourselves out of it we began reading to Archie. Through the books, we could step into our own little world inside that ICU, and it provided us with enormous comfort. It was a wonderful bonding experience and a great distraction from the stressors around us,” she says. 

Bolton notes that the NICU setting can be overwhelming for parents who are not able to participate in the care of their baby as they normally would, and that reading is a powerful way to connect. “Reading to their baby can give parents a sense of purpose in this challenging time – while for babies, hearing their mom and dad’s voices is reassuring. Furthermore, research indicates that by listening to their parents’ voices, babies display more stable breathing and heart rates, as well as better feeding and growth. 

A picture of Baby Archie laying in a hospital crib/ bed with a book also in the picture,

“Providing babies with language nutrition – which essentially refers to feeding a baby’s growing brain through language exposure – is also strongly associated with better neurodevelopmental outcomes and future literacy. The earlier a newborn is exposed to reading, the greater the benefit,” she adds. 

Archie’s legacy

As a large foster family and founders of the Maletsatsi Foundation, the Heins had taken in and parented more than 100 newborns with nowhere else to go, helping many biological families in difficult circumstances to get back on their feet while other babies have gone on to be adopted and find new homes. 

During this time, the couple had cared for several newborns with cardiac conditions and had taken in babies who needed palliative care, nursing them to the end of life. 

“It’s strange how things turn out. We could never have known it, but all that experience prepared us for what we would one day go through with Archie. We wanted to take him home as soon as possible and let him live out his life, however long or short, in peace among his family. The team at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital was incredible and rallied around us to help make that happen. 

“The reading continued when we got home and was an ongoing source of comfort and connection between us. Weeks went by and Archie just kept going until eventually, at the age of three months, he passed on – it was utterly peaceful, as if the Universe had stopped for that moment. 

“At his funeral, we asked people to bring books instead of flowers. It is our great wish that out of this enormous loss we could create something special for the many other parents who were struggling with little ones in a neonatal ICU. 

“Some months later, Netcare Sunninghill Hospital welcomed the pilot project for Archie’s Archives, with one placed in the NICU and one in the cardiothoracic unit. Off the back of this, five other Netcare hospitals have received units, and requests are continuing to come in for more, which we are working on the funding to provide. We have been overwhelmed by the heart of Netcare and we have experienced a rather phenomenal ethos and positive reception to the initiative,” she notes. 

Bolton concludes by thanking the Heins for their inspirational contribution to families in Netcare NICUs and other ICUs. “Through family-centred care initiatives such as this, parents can become more involved and empowered in the care of their babies – and we at Netcare are actively supporting that aim wherever possible.”

For more information about how to contribute to Archie’s Archives, please contact Tiffini Hein at tiffini@archiesarchive.co.za

Parcels of donated books can be sent to:

Archie’s Archive 

Postnet Suite #16

Private Bag X16

Highveld Park

0169

You can also drop off at an Archie’s Archives collection point:

Gauteng – Sandton: The Children’s Therapy Centre

Western Cape – Durbanville: The Wonder Years Pre School

For those who wish to buy new, deliveries can be made as follows:

Takealot purchases can be sent directly to the Takealot Pickup Point Midrand (Big Bird Petroport, N1 Bridge Southbound), marked for Archie’s Archive (notifications can please be sent to Tiffini on +27713521457)

Reader’s Warehouse deliveries can please be sent directly to PostNet Greyowl, Shop 16 Grey Owl Shopping Centre, Brakfontein Road, Louwardia Centurion, 1683. Please mark for the attention of Tiffini Hein (+27713521457).

Exclusive Books deliveries can also be sent directly to PostNet Greyowl, Shop 16 Grey Owl Shopping Centre, Brakfontein Road, Louwardia Centurion, 1683. Please mark for the attention of Tiffini Hein (+27713521457).

Cash donations for Archie’s Archives can be made to:

FNB 62865881314

Cheque Account

Branch Code: 210835 

Swift Code: FIRNZAJJ

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