ERIE, Pa. — With the first pass of the hair clippers — a strip right down the middle — Hunter Jamison was all-in.
What choice did he have? He was on stage in Bruno’s Café, tufts of cut hair piling in his lap. The rest of the Penn State Behrend baseball team had nearly fallen out of their chairs, they were laughing so hard.
It was meant to be a spectacle. The players had volunteered to shave their heads to raise money for Grady’s Decision, an Erie nonprofit organization that supports families that have experienced a premature birth. The organization helps cover the cost of parking, meals and lodging when babies remain in the hospital.
“They’re having fun, so people stop to watch,” said Ryan Smith, who co-founded Grady’s Decision with his then-wife, Katrina, after the death of their infant son in 2009. “But years from now, if they’re sitting in the NICU and they’re scared and they don’t know what to do, maybe they’ll remember this, and they’ll know there are groups like ours that can help them.”
That’s likely to happen. One of every 10 U.S. babies is born prematurely, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate has increased every year since 2014.
Grady Smith was born at 26 weeks. He had bleeding in his brain, and he struggled to breathe. His twin sister, Gianna, survived.
“As a parent, you are absolutely lost when something like that happens,” Ryan Smith said. “You’re in a fog, and you can barely function. And insurance has its limits: Health care doesn’t pay for parking passes, or for the gas that gets you to the hospital.”