University of Southern California
University of Southern California
NICU lab identity

Supporting & Enhancing NICU Sensory Experiences
2nd Edition

The SENSE Task Force has been essential in reviewing and providing valuable feedback on the changes made to the SENSE program. In small groups, they reviewed the individual sensory exposures, considering safety, feasibility, and adaptability. They also provided additional insights on formatting and readability for the entirety of the revised program. We greatly appreciate all of their support and wish to recognize them here.

Maria ‘Cristina’ Gallup

Maria ‘Cristina’ Gallup MSN, APRN, CCNS-N

Maria ‘Cristina’ Gallup is a Certified Neonatal Clinical Nurse Specialist who has been practicing in this role since 2009. As a neonatal nurse, she has always been interested in family-centered care and developmental care practices to improve outcomes for premature infants. She served in the Air Force for over 27 years. As a Nurse Corps Officer, she worked in a variety of roles from bedside nurse, transport, ECMO specialist, management, and military consultant to the AF Surgeon General for Neonatal Nursing. She led the implementation of the SENSE program at Mayo Clinic, Rochester where she currently works.

Juhita Taank Parmar

Juhita Taank Parmar MPT, CNT, C/SET

Juhita Taank Parmar is a physical therapist from India, who has been working for almost 10 years in and around the NICU. She feels blessed to support NICU parents as they go through a rough start to their parenting journey. Being a part of the SENSE advisory team has allowed her to extend her support to infants and families whom she cannot reach. Working in the NICU empowers her to practice: “strength but not difficulty, love but not stress, expectation but not uninterested and regulated but not disorganized.” Her message to every parent is that: your child has everything that they need and that’s you!

Maureen Howell

Maureen Howell MA, MT-BC

Maureen Howell is a board-certified music therapist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, covering the level 4 NICU and all of pediatrics. She has been involved with the SENSE program since its implementation at the Mayo Clinic, and was honored to serve on the auditory task force. Ms. Howell is passionate about using music with premature babies and their families to promote neurological safety and development, support after procedures and family-centered care and empowerment. In addition, she got a glimpse of life as a NICU parent when her son required a brief stay in 2021.

Michele Hyams

Michele Hyams DPT

Michele Hyams received her Bachelor of Science from Vanderbilt University and then continued to A.T. Still for her Doctor of Physical Therapy. She is a Certified Neonatal Therapist and obtained her Developmental Specialist Certification. Ms. Hyams is a Certified Infant Massage Instructor and has been working in the NICU for 19 years. Although she loves all of pediatric therapy and is the Supervisor for Infant Therapy, her focus has been on the NICU as she has expanded two level-three NICUs to include more developmental care and has created a follow-up clinic for those high-risk infants after discharge.

Jane B. Keith

Jane B. Keith MSPT, CNT

Jane B. Keith has been a practicing pediatric PT since 1992 after graduating from Washington University School of Physical Therapy. She began her neonatal training at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Since moving to Birmingham, AL in 1993, she has been involved in establishing PT in the NICU in 2 area hospitals, as well as being the sole provider at a 3rd hospital. She is currently part of the neonatal therapy team in a level IV unit. Her team purchased the SENSE program 3 years ago after learning about it at the NANT conference. For her, this was the first program that took the information she learned as a neonatal therapist and translated it into a practical way to educate parents and staff. She is excited to be part of the SENSE task force so that this program can continue to support best practices in neonatal care. She would like to thank Bobbi Pineda and her staff for this opportunity to participate.

Robert White

Robert White MD

Robert White is a neonatologist at Beacon Children’s Hospital in South Bend, IN. He has worked on improving the structural and operational aspects of environment of care environment for high-risk newborns and their families through research, teaching, and co-leadership of the Gravens Conference, the International Newborn Brain Conference, and the Committee to Establish Recommended Standards for Newborn ICU Design.

Adriana Rusch


Adriana Rusch is a NICU Occupational Therapist at a level IV NICU. Her son was in the NICU for a brief period. Through this experience, she was able to gain insight into the parents’ perspective of being separated from their infant and its effect on breastfeeding. She has helped develop and worked in a NICU follow through clinic. She values helping families bond and better understand their infant’s developmental and feeding/swallowing skills.

Liz Drake


Liz Drake has been practicing in the NICU for 40 years. Teamwork, Quality Improvement, caring for extremely low birth weight infants, and neuroprotective care are her passions and expertise. She has a strong desire to teach all members of the team about the uniqueness and language of the premature infant. Her focus is on how every touch and relational experience with a premature infant and their family can have an impact. Her desire is to build passion in others to practice intention, purpose, and integration of evidence into the care they provide to infants and their families. She is a driver for quality improvement initiatives and is actively involved with the California State Quality Collaborative. She’s also a published author, a nationally recognized national conference presenter, consultant and co-owner of Engage Grow Thrive, and co-developer of the Small Baby Care Specialist Program.

Sharon Helton

Sharon Helton MEd, OTR/L

Sharon Helton is a Certified Neonatal Therapist who has been practicing in pediatrics since 2003. She is also a Developmental Specialist and has obtained her certification in Neonatal Touch and Massage. She works both in a level II Special Care Nursery (SCN) and level III NICU. She is passionate about her work with the preemie population and is interested in learning more about the SENSE program.

Zinnia Kamal

Zinnia Kamal PT, DPT, Board Certified Clinical Specialist in Pediatric Physical Therapy

Zinnia Kamal works as the NICU Physical Therapist at Comanche County Memorial Hospital in Lawton, OK and at Duncan Regional Hospital, DRH Health, as an Outpatient Pediatric Physical Therapist. Her current treatment focuses are with NICU infants, NICU graduates, continuity of care, bridging the gap to outpatient services, pediatric pelvic health, and pediatric development from birth through transition to adulthood. Dr. Kamal became involved in the SENSE Task Force to help the parents and families better understand, bond, and care — while providing developmentally appropriate sensory exposures — for their infants in the NICU setting.

Crystal Baize

Crystal Baize

Crystal Baize was on hospital bed rest because of her severe preeclampsia in 2015. Her son was born at 29 weeks weighing 3lbs 2oz. She was completely unprepared for a preemie and all the decisions parents have to make. The amazing NICU team at Willowbrook Methodist Hospital in Houston helped her family learn how to care for their preemie son. She has stayed connected to the doctors and nurses, who still sometimes connect her with new NICU moms to mentor. One of those nurses suggested she apply to be a parent advisor with the SENSE program. She has loved being able to help mentor other NICU moms. She believes having someone who understands what you’re going through makes a world of difference in your NICU experience.

Cara Iuliano

Cara Iuliano MS, CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert AVEd, CLC, NTMC

Cara Iuliano is a speech-language pathologist who works per diem in a level III NICU. She also practices in early intervention and at a pediatric trach and vent facility. Continuing education is at the forefront of her practice. Ms. Iuliano’s special interests include trauma-informed therapy and neuroprotective care to build strong neural pathways to last a lifetime.

Carolyn Ibrahim

Carolyn Ibrahim MS, OTR/L, CLC

Carolyn Ibrahim is a neonatal therapist who has been practicing since 2016. She started her occupational therapy career in pediatrics and quickly gravitated towards the NICU as she felt she could make the biggest impact on her patients’ lives at this early age. Since working in the NICU, Carolyn has become most passionate about facilitating positive interactions between the infants and their caregivers that support the infant’s development. She looks forward to spending many more years working with this population and engaging in research to better support the infants and their families.

Melanie Petrushko

Melanie Petrushko SLP, CNT

Melanie Petrushko is a speech-language pathologist in the NICU at HCA, Florida and Cleveland Clinic, Florida. She is very interested in supporting early sensory experiences as they relate to later cognitive and communication development. Along with her team, she plans to utilize the SENSE program this Fall to support their infants’ development and their parents’ role in caring for their baby.

Kate Tauber

Kate Tauber MD, MA

Kate Tauber MD, MA is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology, the Director of the NeuroNICU Program and the NICU MOM Program, and physician at Bernard and Millie Duker Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center in Albany, NY. She heard about the SENSE program from a conference that she attended and was very impressed with the materials and support provided in this program. She believes that the SENSE program will be an important addition to her unit as part of their NeuroNICU program, which focuses on implementing protocols and strategies to optimize outcomes for those infants most at risk for neurological problems. The neurodevelopmental committee for her unit consists of neonatologists, nurse clinicians, advanced practice providers, nurses, neonatal physical therapists, and neonatal occupational therapists, who have all been working together to implement this program within their NICU. Along with her team, Dr. Kate is hoping to add a parent advisor to the group in the future as well.

Raquel Garcia

Raquel Garcia SLP.D, CCC-SLP, CLC, CNT, BCS-S

Raquel Garcia is a trained craniofacial speech-language pathologist, who has over 11 years of clinical experience and is a core member of the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Craniofacial team. She works in the acute care setting in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. She graduated with her MS in communication disorders from Nova Southeastern University and her doctorate of speech-language pathology from Northwestern University. The SENSE program is a tool that guides her clinical practice with the smallest of clients in infant critical care units. She has attended SENSE training as well as hosted SENSE journal club. It has been an honor to be on the SENSE task force as she continues to strive to elevate her clinical practice and promote caregiver autonomy. Her clinical interests include upper airway disorders, infant feeding, neonatal care, and dysphagia.

Kati Knudsen

Kati Knudsen PT, MPT, CNT, PCS, DCS, CLE

Kati Knudsen has practiced in the NICU since 1999 and serves as lead therapist for two Providence NICUs in Portland, Oregon. A member of the Neonatal Therapy Certification Board and Vermont Oxford Network Multidisciplinary Advisory Committee, Ms. Knudsen also lectures nationally and internationally and has published articles pertaining to developmental care, quality improvement, and neonatal therapy. Ms. Knudsen was an early adopter of the original SENSE program and continues to use the tool on a daily basis in the NICU. As a clinician, Ms. Knudsen aims to employ evidence-based interventions in support of neonates and appreciates the opportunity to use and assist with the development of the updated SENSE program.

Cathy Bush

Cathy Bush MEd, BA

Cathy Bush is the Chief Customer Officer and co-founder of DandleLION® Medical and Synova Associates. She started her career at Children’s Medical Ventures in 1991 and helped to develop the first commercially available positioning aids, as well as the Preemie for the Day® and Wee Care® education programs. In 2009, she moved to DandleLION Medical to continue her passion for developing evidence-based, neurodevelopmental products and education materials. Ms. Bush collaborated with Bobbi and Joan on innovative solutions that meet the needs of hospitalized babies and their families.

Kristen Carrierfenster MSN, PNP, NNP, BC

Kristen Carrierfenster is a neonatal nurse practitioner, who graduated from the University at Buffalo. She started working in the NICU at Albany Medical Center in 2007. After preterm labor during her second pregnancy, she became focused on developmental care in her unit. She started a multidisciplinary developmental committee in the NICU. Since then, she has spoken at state and national conferences on various developmental considerations and has publications in the works. She is chair of the Developmental Committee and also Co-Chair a chapter of the Wellness Committee at the Pediatric Hospital.

Danielle Prince

Danielle Prince OTD, OTR/L, NTMC

Danielle Prince has been practicing for 2.5 years at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital in a Level IV NICU. On her unit, she specializes in working with small babies less than 25 weeks gestation, neonatal feeding, and recently performing VFSS. She was involved with the original SENSE program development at Washington University in St. Louis with Dr. Pineda. When she came to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, she worked with Holly Schifsky OTR/L, CNT, to implement the SENSE program in their small baby unit. She has a passion for neonatal feeding research, and neurodevelopmental interventions, and hopes to pursue her CNT in the future.

Jordan Starr

Jordan Starr BS

Jordan Starr is a mother of twin micro-preemies born at 28 weeks, who faced significant medical challenges during and after their NICU stay. She strives to learn about the development of premature infants in order to support not only her own children but those who experience a NICU stay. Through early intervention with First Steps and sub-specialty visits, she and her husband have successfully helped their twins make steps to catch up to their peers. Mrs. Starr has been instrumental in the development of a support group for NICU moms in the Southeast Region of Missouri. In her Facebook Group “It’s a Preemie Thing,” she is a constant source of motivation and a great resource for NICU moms. In addition to support through social media, Mrs. Starr leads live support groups and invites current and past NICU moms to attend. The COVID-19 pandemic has restricted this live support group; however, Mrs. Starr remains continually active, encouraging moms to share their greatest memories and accomplishments. Her vision is to provide a safe space for other parents to share, ask questions, or just find some support during and after their stay. She now has two lead mentors, three graduate mentors, and 65 members including nurses, therapists, graduates and inpatient families. Mrs. Starr has also collected over 3,000 books that serve as donations to NICU families. She recognizes the benefit of reading in the NICU to promote early language development. Not all parents instinctively know how to talk to their babies and providing them with books facilitates a way for parents to stay involved and active in their infant’s development. As the public board member for the Neonatal Therapy Certification Board (NTCB), she is able to advocate for families with premature infants. After being introduced to the SENSE program by Dr. Pineda, Mrs. Starr felt that she had unique insights to contribute to the program, given her experiences as a mother of preemies who spent a significant amount of time in the NICU. She is a leader and an advocate. She is a kind soul with a huge heart.

Yamile C. Jackson

Yamile C. Jackson PhD, PE, PMP

Yamile C. Jackson is a licensed ergonomics and risk engineer and the Chief Executive Officer of Nurtured by Design®, Sugar Land, TX. Yamile’s son, Zachary (former micro preemie now in college), inspired her to leave the oil and gas industry to engineer products and services that translate evidence into practice and improve safety, sleep, quality of family life, and parents-neonate bond. Yamile is a published author, award-winning innovator, and inventor of The Zaky®. Yamile is a philanthropist, Certified Kangaroo Caregiver, and Trauma-Informed Professional. In 2011 she founded the International Kangaroo Care Awareness Day, celebrated globally on May 15th (Zachary’s Birthday).

Daphna Yasova Barbeau

Daphna Yasova Barbeau MD

Daphna Yasova Barbeau is a neonatologist, and the director of neurodevelopment in her unit. She has a special interest in integrating parents and families into developmentally appropriate and individualized care for infants. Thusly, participating in the SENSE program was a perfect fit for her. Other areas of specialty include hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, palliative care, and breastfeeding medicine.

Patricia (Tricia) Cook

Patricia (Tricia) Cook MS, OTR/L

Patricia (Tricia) Cook is a certified neonatal therapist who has been practicing since 2014. Her oldest sister was born at 29 weeks gestation and is her inspiration to practice in the field of occupational therapy. She has been practicing in the NICU for the past five years working with neonates and their families. Mrs. Cook introduced the SENSE program to her rehabilitation team which has served as a new way of evaluating and treating the neonates and their families. The SENSE program has provided the families with detailed education of the NICU experience as well as provided a role for the parents to carry out at bedside. With the lasting benefits the program has provided to her babies and their families, she is a huge supporter for the continued growth and education of the SENSE program.

We would also like to acknowledge the contributions of Emily Bordier (SLP) and Karen Lukas (RN) to the SENSE Task Force.