Aubrey Koudelka, the inspiration for To the Moon and Back.

To the Moon and Back

Giving back helps heal in the wake of personal tragedy and grief.

Aubrey Koudelka’s family knew she would have developmental issues after she suffered a fetal-maternal hemorrhage at birth and spent the first three months of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

“When Aubrey’s parents got to the NICU, one of the nurses had her dressed in a little hat and blanket,” says Kelly Nix, Aubrey’s great-aunt and founder of To the Moon and Back. “It gave them a lot of comfort, just knowing that someone else realized that she was a viable little human being.”

When Aubrey passed away suddenly at eight months old, Kelly and her family were struck with grief. “Her older brother, who was six at the time, was worried that no one would remember her,” Kelly says. “To the Moon and Back was my way of turning my grief into something positive and healthy, and making sure that Aubrey would be remembered.”

Inspired by the comfort that a simple hat and blanket brought to her family, Kelly and a team of volunteers began crafting hand-made comfort items, such as hats, blankets, and laundry bags to deliver to NICUs throughout Texas, including McLane Children’s. They even deliver to NICUs in Canada and England.

Donna Wright, Kelly Nix, and Marlene Poehlmann deliver To the Moon and Back items to families in the McLane Children’s NICU.

The group of volunteers also work with nurses to determine what the babies and their families need in the NICU. Moon-shaped pillows help prop IV lines, position babies, and show comparative growth over time. Since parents often can’t hold their premature babies, the group also creates “bonding hearts” which are exchanged between the parents and baby to share their scents.

“The babies are so tiny and vulnerable, and the parents are scared and stressed during a time that should be joyful. We just want to make the parents feel as normal as possible while their baby is in the NICU,” says Donna Wright, who also experienced the healing power of giving back after her grandson was stillborn. “It gave me the will to get out of bed some days and keep going. I realized that while my grandson didn’t make it, there were babies that did, and families that needed this love and support.”

To date, the group has donated more than 5,000 items to the McLane Children’s NICU. “It’s very healing for our whole family,” Kelly says, “just knowing that Aubrey’s little life is impacting other children and giving other families some peace and comfort.”

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