Linda West-Conforti explained the origins of Angels in Waiting at a recent Women’s Club of Lake Arrowhead meeting. (Photo by Mary-Justine Lanyon)
Caring for medically fragile infants
By Mary-Justine Lanyon
As a neonatal intensive care nurse, Linda West-Conforti was all too aware of medically fragile infants and their special needs.
What eventually became Angels in Waiting began with West-Conforti taking one infant – Sammy – home with her to get the care he needed. Sammy was born at 23 weeks, weighing just 17 ounces, to a mother addicted to methamphetamine. He faced numerous medical issues.
West-Conforti went into action, going through the complex process to become a foster home for medically fragile children. Under her care, Sammy flourished. Now 19, he has graduated from high school and works for the Arrowhead Lake Association. His medical issues are behind him.
At a recent meeting of the Women’s Club of Lake Arrowhead, West-Conforti shared a clip from the television show The Doctors, where she explained how Angels in Waiting came about and why it is so critical that these medically fragile children be cared for by nurses at their homes.
“I recruited nurses to become foster parents of medically fragile children,” West-Conforti said. “It’s not for everyone – it is the most challenging nursing career but also the most rewarding.
“These nurses are so unselfish, so giving, so remarkable.”
Many of the medically fragile infants are born to meth-addicted mothers. What happens, West-Conforti explained, is the substances are transferred to the developing embryo and can affect all of its systems, causing birth defects.
“These babies need a lot of attention,” West-Conforti said. As they get older, they may develop learning and behavior problems. SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) is more common in these babies.
Twenty years ago, West-Conforti said, she spotted a painting of a newborn in a store at the Blue Jay mall. “A voice in my head told me to find the artist.” That artist turned out to be Nancy Van Buskirk.
“I met Nancy and told her my idea about forming a nonprofit for nurses to take in children,” West-Conforti said. Van Buskirk at the time worked for a large law firm that did pro bono work. Angels in Waiting became a nonprofit in 2005 under the auspices of that law firm.
West-Conforti did not stop there. She helped create state laws so that, in California, all medically fragile children go into the hearts and homes of nurses.
“Babies are meant to bond with a human, not have 35 pairs of hands on them in a week,” West-Conforti said. “I saw a lot of failure to thrive. These babies give up the will to live.”
She has seen a lot of miracles occur through love and dedication. Since the formation of Angels in Waiting, more than 500 nurses have saved thousands of children. And what happens to those children? There is a 95-percent adoption rate, West-Conforti said.
She herself did not stop with Sammy. West-Conforti and her husband also adopted Autumn, now 14, and Anthony, now 16. They have fostered more than 17 children.
West-Conforti would like to take Angels in Waiting nationwide. However, she said, “just dealing with California has been a nightmare.
“There is no medicine better than love,” West-Conforti said. “Miracles occur through the hearts and hands of nurses.”
For more information on Angels in Waiting, visit www.angelsinwaiting.org.