Published on November 28, 2017

Nutcracker Donation to Benefit NICU Patient Assistance Fund

TUPELO, Miss.—Fragile babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the North Mississippi Medical Center Women’s Hospital have a battalion of toy soldiers looking out for them this Christmas.

After 35 years of collecting, Melissa Harwell of Oxford has generously donated 300 nutcrackers from her collection to be sold to benefit the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Patient Assistance Fund. The nutcrackers come in various shapes, sizes and colors and represent various occupations and themes—from military to Wizard of Oz and from firefighter to pirate.

“It’s all about the babies and their families,” said Harwell, whose act of kindness is in memory of her father, the late Billy Gene White Sr., who died 50 years ago at age 41.

Her ties to fragile infants run deep. She and her siblings were born at NMMC and grew up in Fulton. Her older sister, “Alice Gene” was born with pyloric stenosis, a condition that blocks food from entering the baby’s small intestine, and did not survive. Four years later, Harwell was born with the same condition and spent a month at NMMC before her parents were able to take her home. Over the years other family members have been born prematurely or with tragic conditions.

“The NICU has been extremely important to me,” said Harwell, whose 3-year-old grandson was rushed to surgery for a congenital defect and then to the NICU before she even made it to the hospital where he was born in Washington, D.C.

Her cousin, Dr. C.K. White, retired as an obstetrician-gynecologist at NMMC Women’s Hospital and now serves as the organization’s chief medical officer.

“I have wanted to do this for several years in memory of my sweet Daddy, but it just never did come to pass,” Harwell said. “Some of the nutcrackers are expensive and some are not. Think about the difference the money can make in a family’s life. I just know that I’m supposed to do this.”

The nutcrackers will be sold at the NMMC Women’s Hospital Gift Shop between 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday until Christmas. A table will also be set up at the Tupelo Ballet’s 35th annual performance of The Nutcracker at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at Tupelo High School Performing Arts Center.

Nutcrackers start at $5, and purchases may be made with cash or check made payable to the Health Care Foundation of North Mississippi.

“If someone can get the joy out of them that I’ve gotten over all these years,” Harwell said, “then my job is done.”

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