Student Recognition


Koul brothers

 

Mansfield High students give back to neonatal intensive care units

By Jessica Zandan (jzandan@thesunchronicle.com)

Jul 5, 2021

Seventeen years ago, twins Sagar and Sahil Koul were born weighing a mere 2.2 and 2.3 pounds, respectively, three months prematurely.

The tiny newborns, sons of Lalit and Rachna Koul of Mansfield, spent six weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston, receiving specialized care that saved their fragile lives.

Today, Sagar and Sahil are Mansfield High School student-athletes giving back to the place that helped give them their start in life.

 

In October 2020, the twins started The Koul Project, a nonprofit designed to raise funds and execute community service projects for organizations like neonatal intensive care units and specialized medical nonprofit groups that provide healthcare for premature babies, according to its website.

“We always wanted to give back to the community that saved our lives in some way, but we didn’t know how to start,” Sagar said. “We were indebted to the healthcare workers in the NICU and the medical professionals who treated clubfoot, and so we began thinking of ways to give back to them.”

The pair began brainstorming ways to do this in early 2020, and while they say the coronavirus pandemic hindered their ability to connect with the medical professionals they wanted to reach, it also gave them more time to establish their goals.

“Especially during the pandemic, we were even more eager to give back to the medical community as they were facing a terrible crisis,” Sagar said.

They sought advice from their parents and sisters, Rashmi and Megha Koul, who are pursuing careers in the medical field.

“Our parents shed some light on our NICU experiences before we created The Koul Project,” Sahil said. “they told us a lot about our fragile state and how much my mother and the other mothers of premature babies had to go through. They also highlighted the perseverance and bravery of the NICU workers that saved our lives.

“This understanding was the driving force for the creation of The Koul Project.”

In addition, the twins also consulted with neonatologist Shah Hossain, chair of pediatrics at St. Elizabeth’s through the hospital’s partnership with Mass General for Children, who treated them as newborns, as well as their pediatrician Cassandra Walcott.

“Meeting Dr. Hossain was a very uplifting and joyful experience for us,” Sagar said. “He was integral in keeping us healthy in our early childhood and seeing him for the first time in years was incredible. Our parents had mentioned him to us before, but we never actually got to see him. Through our Kid Kits initiative, we got the chance to meet up and it was an experience that we will never forget.”

In early June, Sagar and Sahil got their chance to give back with a visit to the same NICU that saved them years before.

Through fundraising efforts that included social media, direct email and phone calls, the twins brought gift packages for new parents called Kid Kits with them. The kits include items like a wash tub, a tummy time toy and mat combo, swaddle sacks, a sound machine and baby toiletries that are given to families when they’re ready to bring their babies home from the NICU.

“We discussed the needs (of parents) with NICU nursing staff where they gave us great advice on what items families of NICU babies would be in need of,” Sahil said.

Their parents, who had anxiously visited their twins in the NICU years ago, accompanied them on their visit as teenagers.

“We used to travel from Mansfield to Boston each afternoon and spend couple of hours at the NICU, nursing the babies,” their father Lalit said of his and Rachna’s daily routine after the twins’ birth.

After the initial six weeks at St. Elizabeth’s, the twins were strong enough to be transferred closer to home to Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, making “slow but steady progress each day,” Lalit recalled. After three months, they were able to go home for the first time.

“Each small improvement in their health was a huge victory for them and relief for us,” he said. “There were some good days and some bad days but we kept the faith that they were in safe hands and would make it through.”

Lalit said it was a special moment for them to walk into the unit with their sons and see them giving back to the community that helped them.

“It was a proud moment for proud parents,” he said. “It was nice to see them being welcomed by the NICU staff, including some who were there even at the time of their birth.”

Sahil and Sagar say their spirit of volunteerism originated from their upbringing that championed service and a responsibility to be kind and helpful to those around them. Prior to starting The Koul Project, they volunteered with the Special Olympics, the Hockomock YMCA and the Outreach Van Project at Boston Medical Center.

“Our parents were integral to instilling these values in us,” Sahil said.

In addition to the five hours a week they spend working on their nonprofit, the pair, who will be seniors in the fall, are involved in a variety of other academic and athletic pursuits.

Sagar, his class president and a student council leader, plays varsity soccer for Mansfield High and was the highest goal scorer this past year. He’s also involved in the MHS National Honor Society, World Language Honor Society, Principal Advisory Council, and was the MHS Ambassador to the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Conference.

Sahil, who was born with clubfoot and treated with surgery and physical therapy, has played soccer on the team for the past three years. He founded the MHS Film Club, is the chief editor of the MHS newspaper The Voice, National Honor Society Treasurer, and he was the MHS Ambassador for the Rotary Youth Leadership Conference.

Both Sagar and Sahil play cricket, representing Massachusetts on the Under-16 and Under-18 levels at national youth tournaments across the country, and both were selected to compete at the USA Under-19 National Championship held in Houston, Texas representing the East Zone region in April.

This summer, they’re participating in many virtual college visits at schools across the country and information sessions and are already planning to major in international business. Sagar would also like to study politics and communication while Sahil hopes to add in finance and film. While they’re interested in some of the same colleges, they don’t see themselves attending the same school.

Throughout the next year and into the future, though, the twins plan to continue fundraising efforts for The Koul Project with the hopes of donating to other regional NICUs, including Good Samaritan’s. They say their nonprofit will continue to aid NICUs and clubfoot organizations around the region.

“Throughout college and after, we will continue to champion our organization and its noble cause,” Sagar said.

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