Riley Hospital neuro-diagnostic specialists Celeste Merz and Tina Miller have started the initiative to crochet 700 “jellyfish” for NICU babies, in memory of popular neurologist Dr. Mandy Harris, who died in 2017.
Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar

“Amazing is an understatement. She was down to earth … She was hands on with the babies, hands on with her techs.”

Pediatric neurologist Mandy Harris devoted her all-too-brief medical career to doing what she could to save the tiniest, sickest babies in the neonatal intensive care unit at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

When Harris died last month at the age of 41 from complications of diabetes, colleagues who worked alongside her looked for a way to honor the beloved pediatrician.

They knew other hospitals give their littlest babies crocheted stuffed “octopuses.” The preemies clutch the soft arms in a way that is reminiscent of what they do in utero with their own umbilical cords.

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But Riley’s NICU does not allow its newborns to have stuffed animals in cribs because they can pose a suffocation risk. Even teddy bears are flat.

So neurodiagnostic specialist Tina Miller, a skilled crocheter, fiddled with the octopus concept and devised a pattern for a flat-headed octopus, which she realized resembled another sea creature.

“Without the stuffing, they look more like a jellyfish than an octopus,” Miller said. “When I saw this, my heart just went, ‘Oh my goodness, this would be so great.’”

Thus was born Jelly Buddies 4 Mandy, an initiative to craft at least 700 of the multi-colored jellyfish to give to babies in Riley’s NICU. The number 700 refers to the number of babies that Harris’ family told Miller and Celeste Merz that Harris had saved during her time at Riley.

Under Harris’ guidance, Riley Hospital became one of the first to set up a program to monitor babies at risk of developing brain trouble. The idea was to catch problems as soon as possible, allowing doctors to intervene and hopefully ward off more drastic complications.

Harris was more than a caring, consummate clinician, her former coworkers say. She was also a wonderful person.

“Amazing is an understatement,” Miller said. “She was down to earth, very involved and hands on. She was…