SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For the past month, Amanda Bates has watched as her son Asher steadily gains strength in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sutter Health's California Pacific Medical Center Van Ness Campus in San Francisco.
His home since being born six weeks premature.
"When I started it was a scary experience because I had just given birth, and I now had a new baby that I was able to help take care of," Bates remembers.
She says each feeding, each exam, each nap is like a mile marker on their journey home. She's been tracking them as part of a unique program started at the hospital, creating a living road map, with beads.
"Each bead that has a figure represents an achievement of that day," says Bates, holding up a long string of multi-colored beads and charms.
The program is called "Tiny Victories of Life" and Child Life Specialist Shannon Banahan says it's a way for parents to focus on the progress they're making and gather strength from each hurdle they overcome.
"If the baby had to be rushed to surgery, they'll have a surgery bead for the first day," Banahan explains. "Then as the beads get longer and they get closer to discharge, they can see how far their baby has come"
She says hundreds of families have created the beaded strings since the program started. Some families frame them, others find different uses. But each strand ends with the most important charm.
"Our butterfly charm, and that symbols our discharge bead when our babies get to fly out of here and go home," said Banahan.
For Amanda and Asher, it will also be a lifelong symbol of their first weeks together and their journey home.
"And look back at the NICU, and all the little victories he had along the way," she says.