Orange Park Medical Center staffer takes in baby born addicted to drugs

ORANGE PARK, Fla. – An Orange Park Medical Center employee has taken in a baby boy born addicted to drugs, the hospital announced Thursday.

The child was born Aug. 4 and began suffering from excessive crying and trembling, conditions the hospital said are symptomatic of neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS.

NAS occurs when a baby goes through withdrawal from drugs to which they've been exposed in the womb. It's characterized by symptoms including seizures, shakes, breathing problems and seizures.

Following the child's birth, staff at the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, took turns holding and comforting him around the clock.

Operating technician Donna Hightower said the boy captured her heart.

"This particular day, I went over. He was a week old and he was really fussy and for some reason. I took this bond to him. I began to feed to him and sing to him and I found myself checking on him every day," Hightower told News4Jax. "Every day I came in, I had to see about him every day before lunch I would have to see about him every day before I went home."

According to the hospital, the baby boy was taken away from his mother when she tested positive for drugs. Hightower took such a shine to the baby that she decided to foster the boy when he turned 5 weeks old.

"I knew in my heart I couldn’t stand to see this child stay in the NICU, and so I agreed," she said.

About three weeks ago, Hightower left work and took the baby home. She said the entire family has embraced new addition. She has a 19-year-old son in the Army and a 21-year-old daughter, who is studying pediatrics. 

Her daughter, Sa'coya Willis, said she admires her mom and now-foster mom. 

"I just think for someone to be so selfless and take on a responsibility that wasn’t really there’s in the first place, and to step up and say, 'Hey, I am going to do this,' because this is a selfless act," Willis said. 

Now, the adorable baby boy is 2 months old and slowly detoxing off of the drugs. Hightower said she’s committed to giving him the best possible future.

She said she's been overwhelmed by the outpouring of care and support she received from other staff in response.

"He didn't have a choice to have this life," she said of the child. "I just want him to have a good life whether it's with me or in a forever home."

Hightower said she will be the boy's foster mother for as long as possible and will consider giving him a forever home. 

It will take another four months before the child will be completely detoxed from the drugs.

In a news release, the hospital said it wants to shine a spotlight on issues staff are seeing in the delivery room, particularly as the community grapples with the proliferation of opioid overdoses.

"NAS is becoming more and more common," said Suzanne Jones, the hospital's director of women and children's services. "Our NICU has been busier than ever and part of that is due to the increase of babies being born addicted to drugs."

About the Authors: