Leighton's Gift

Jaxon, Amy, Chris and Olivia Skaggs showed off Leighton’s Gift swag at the annual charity ride on May 16.

Last weekend brought upsetting news out of Waco about a small percentage of the motorcycle community, but in Celina, riders saddled up to help improve lives for North Texas’ smallest residents. Leighton’s Ride, an annual motorcycle event, on Saturday raised over $7,600 that organizers say will easily purchase an additional two web cameras for the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano.

The third annual event drew about 33 riders who braved cloudy skies and muggy temperatures, heading out of Old Celina Park along the open highway to Adam Smith’s Texoma Harley in Sherman. The flagship fundraiser for Leighton’s Gift, a locally based nonprofit organization, the ride is named in memory of Celina residents Chris and Amy Skaggs’ infant daughter who passed away at Texas Health in 2011.

When the Skaggs delivered twins Leighton and Jaxon a day short of 29 weeks gestation on May 26, 2011, things seemed optimistic, if tenuous. Because visitation rules for NICUs are so strict, Chris and Amy experienced the joy of seeing their newborns’ earliest milestones mostly alone, unable to share those moments with even close family members. They doted on the preemies as their strength and health increased rapidly. Within their first two weeks, neither no longer required continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or oxygen.

Tragedy struck on June 16 when doctors notified the couple that Leighton had developed a high fever, later diagnosed as Late Onset Group B Strep (GBS). Within 48 hours, the infection proved fatal.

During the twins’ time in the NICU, the Skaggs had felt helpless. There was little they could do for the tiny babies they had grown to know and love so intimately, even in their limited time together. Devastated, Amy needed something constructive that could preserve Leighton’s memory and share her legacy.

“Not long after we brought Jaxon home, I woke up in the middle of one night, and I just needed to see him,” Amy said. “I just needed to look at the monitor we had for him, and it hit me.”

She wondered why there hadn’t been a similar option at the NICU so family members could watch over premature babies’ earliest days before they are strong enough for visitation.

“We do multimillion-dollar transactions on our phones on Skype or FaceTime. Why can’t we do this for little babies?” she said. “It was so simple.”

Research led to Angel Eye Cameras, high-resolution technology that allows anyone with a family’s account information to log in and see NICU patients 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world.

They founded Leighton’s Gift and began raising money to purchase the cameras for Texas Health, the only home Leighton knew.

Developed at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the cameras allow parents to bond with the baby through a speaker system and chat with NICU staff and family in real-time. Soon, the company hopes to even introduce a mobile smart phone app for instant access on the go, according to angeleyecameras.com.

To date, Leighton’s Gift has funded 19 cameras for Texas Health, and the Skaggs plan to eventually provide them for each of the unit’s 45 beds. Chris said they currently have funding for an additional four or five cameras, not counting the money this weekend, which he estimates will purchase two others.

Angel Eye recently developed new, smaller cameras, so Texas Health has temporarily held off on new orders while it goes through IT provisioning to ensure they prove compatible with the hospital’s network. Current models are shared and the most critical babies get top priority.  If the new models are approved, each patient will have one through the duration of his or her admission.

“Their normal headcount is around 30, so we want to make sure there are always enough cameras,” Chris said.

The cameras are not inexpensive, but when it came to raising money, Chris said they had an immediate idea for a marquis event. His father, a motorcycle enthusiast who’d participated in several charity rides to benefit breast and prostate cancer organizations, was tapped into a community that seemed like a natural fit.

“These riding clubs, it’s what they do every single week,” Chris said. “We’d been around riders and knew they were a good group of people for a fun ride.”

Another benefit was the promise of low overhead costs.

“With a cycle ride, you just need a highway, so that made it fairly easy for us to start with that one,” he said.

Recent storms and good chances for rain drew a slightly lower turnout Saturday, but the event raised the most money to date.

“A lot of the hardcore riders will ride through anything, but just a little drip at 70 miles per hour can be dangerous,” Chris said. “It misted maybe two times on the way to Sherman, but not at all on the way back.”

With another successful fundraiser under their belts, the Skaggs family – which now includes daughter Olivia – looks to the future. When all the beds at Texas Health have cameras, they may begin working with Leighton’s doctor, who has since moved to Memorial Hermann hospital in The Woodlands, on a ride near Houston.

“We don’t want this to be the end of the road for Leighton’s Gift,” Amy said. “There are plenty of opportunities out there.”

The fourth annual Leighton’s Ride has been set for May 14 next year.

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