Indiana mom Sarah Pulley is no stranger to what life is like for NICU parents. When Pulley’s daughter Amelia was born premature four years ago, she spent four months receiving neonatal intensive care at two different hospitals in the state.

“When Amelia contracted a virus, she was transferred to Riley Children’s Health,” Pulley told USA Today. “We’re very familiar with those walls.”

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After that experience, Pulley was inspired to become a volunteer with Riley Hospital’s Ronald McDonald House Family Room, a program that offers housing near hospitals for families of sick babies, family rooms inside hospitals where family members can eat and shower, and mobile programs that bring much-needed healthcare services to underserved communities. But when Pulley heard that the program was looking to expand its family room and add a hair salon, she knew she had found her calling.

“I knew this could be special,” she said. 

Pulley is the owner of Three Seventeen Hair Design in Carmel, Indiana. So she offered to lead the salon initiative, then donated a chair from her own salon and contacted her distributors, who donated hair care supplies and other products.

On Sept. 14, Pulley opened the “Beauty Bar” on the third floor of the Ronald McDonald Family Room Maternity Tower at Riley Hospital. She continues to donate her hairstyling expertise once a month to offer free pampering sessions to the moms and dads of babies in the hospital’s NICU.

Inside the Beauty Bar, sleep-deprived parents can enjoy a session in a massage chair, snack on fruit and granola bars, snooze in a nap pod, or schedule some serious self-care in the salon chair on the days Pulley volunteers.

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“We shampoo, blow dry and give scalp massages on the second Wednesday of each month,” she said, adding that the medicinal qualities of this kind of self-care can be a game changer for parents in one of the most stressful situations imaginable. “You completely lose all sense of yourself when you have a baby in the NICU. My first mom completely relaxed in the chair; she just closed her eyes and breathed. My second was completely exhausted.”

Pulley had a full-circle moment when her third guest shared a story that sounded similar to what she went through with Amelia, four years ago.

“She had an emergency C-section and she was so thankful,” Pulley said. “Our experiences were very similar.”

Pulley added that in a situation like this, getting your hair styled is secondary to what she really offers these moms and dads: Supportive touch and encouragement — she likes to let isolated parents know that someone is in their corner.

“There’s something about the connection between moms and the power of touch,” she said.