AUGUSTA — When her latest grandson was born Jan. 14 at 1 pound, 7 ounces, Judy Wildes felt helpless.

“You want to do something to make it all OK,” said Wildes, of Augusta.

But there was little she could do.

Mason Raymond Dupuis Wildes — a name almost longer than his original 12 1/2-inch height — was in the neonatal intensive care unit at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Parents Erica Rollins, 24, and Derek Wildes, 26, of Augusta, were with him constantly.

So Judy Wildes decided she would help by creating bright fleece blankets to help comfort Mason and all his fellow preemies.

“I don’t sew or quilt. I can’t knit or crochet,” she said. “But I can cut strips and tie knots. I’ve been doing it, and it’s kept me sane for these past four months.”


On Sunday, Wildes sat at her dining room table, snipping and cutting fleece while talking with Derek and Erica about Mason.

Now almost 9 pounds, Mason underwent surgery earlier this week to have a feeding tube inserted as well as a couple of hernias repaired, among other things.

His survival is remarkable, his parents said, as they prepared to drive back to the hospital.

“He’s doing great, recovering for sure,” said Rollins, who worked as a certified nurse’s assistant before becoming an assistant manager at Dunkin’ Donuts on Civic Center Drive. She stopped working when Mason was born so prematurely. Doctors said the premature birth was the result of an incompetent or weakened cervix.

“It’s a hell of a way to start out with kids,” Rollins said.

Her nursing experience will come in handy when Mason gets to come home to Augusta, which his parents hope will be within the month. “I’ll have to do everything for him,” she said. “I’m starting to do everything now that he’s out of surgery.”


Derek Wildes works as an IT specialist at ESM Inc. in Augusta.

Mason remains hospitalized partly because of a breathing difficulty that is expected to improve with time.

New pictures show Mason’s face gaining fuller checks and without the supplemental oxygen tube in his nose. He’s graduated to a crib in his condo at the hospital, and one picture shows him lying on one of the fleece blankets crafted by his grandmother.

Back in early January, Rollins had gone in for a routine ultrasound when doctors realized the baby was arriving soon.

Rollins was rushed by ambulance to the Portland hospital, kept on bed rest for a week with her head lower than the rest of her body so gravity could help prevent delivery for a few precious days.

She was desperate to get past the 24-week mark to give the baby a better chance.


When Mason was first born, he breathed on his own for about six hours before a breathing tube was inserted.

“They didn’t want him to waste all of his energy,” Derek Wildes said, holding out his phone to show an early photo of his son. With his legs curled up, the baby would have fit comfortably in his father’s hand. “His first diaper was like this big,” said Rollins, holding her fingers about 2 inches apart.

Some of Wildes’ and Rollins’ family, including Erica’s mother, Tricia Furlong of Augusta, have been able to visit the infant, but other family members, including young cousins, have yet to see him in person.

In the meantime, community members and friends have helped the young couple. All seven Dunkin’ Donuts in Augusta had buckets to help raise money for gas and other expenses, and there was a Go Fund Me page as well. Relatives and friends held an auction fundraiser at Le Club Calumet in Augusta, where some of the buyers donated items — included a rocker-glider — back to the family.

And Judy Wildes keeps going to Marden’s in Waterville and Walmart in Augusta to purchase yards and yards of fleece, cutting and tying the tiny blankets and delivering them freshly laundered to the Portland hospital, where she places them on a counter in the neonatal unit.

Most times they’re gone by the time she leaves.


“You can see them in every room when you walk by,” she said.

Wildes also promised nurses there that the blankets will continue to arrive even after Mason is discharged.

“I’m getting pretty fast at tying knots,” she said. Her technique has improved as well. The more consistent sizes are the result of input from her husband, Russell Wildes, a mason, who told her, “If you’re going to make these, you’ve got to square them,” she said.

On Sunday she had a pile of about a dozen blankets ready to be washed and dried in unscented, baby-safe products.

She planned to deliver them one morning this week before returning to Augusta in time to work as a lunchroom/playground monitor at Farrington Elementary School.

And she had more material ready to use. “My kids bought me a whole bunch of fleece for Mother’s Day,” she said.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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