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Happiness, gratitude and the sound of children’s laughter overflowed from the main hall of Christiana Care’s John H. Ammon Medical Education Center on May 16 during the annual Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) reunion.
The afternoon was a chance for hundreds of families to reconnect with staff from the NICU who helped parents and their babies while they received specialized care after birth. The reunion was also a celebration of the health of children who relied on Christiana Care’s NICU, the only Level III NICU at a high-risk delivering hospital in Delaware.
Sam and Julia Forester of Wilmington attended with Annabelle, who is 2 ½, and Ava Rose, who was born in April of last year and spent almost seven weeks in the NICU. Ava Rose weighed 2 pounds, 15 ounces when she was born, and the family lived through some anxious times.
The Foresters were excited to see Jacquie Eubanks, RN, one of their favorite NICU nurses. Eubanks has organized the NICU Reunion for 15 years, and she estimated that 300 people came together this year for the celebration.
“The NICU staff was a cut above any medical care we ever had,” said Sam Forester, as children ran through the auditorium, blowing bubbles and clambering over block castles. “The staff take the extra time to rock your child and do everything that matters. They felt like family.”
Eubanks said she loves organizing the reunion because it’s a happy and memorable time for parents, children and the hospital staff. Doctors and nurses enjoy reconnecting with families with whom they’ve shared an emotional experience that often has ups and downs, she said.
“This is where we get to see that everything we do for families and their babies is so worth it,” Eubanks said. “It feels rewarding when mothers say hello with their children and we get a glimpse of what our care has meant. This is a special day for us.”
Popcorn and clown-shaped sweets added to the event’s carnival theme. Gymboree Play & Music of Wilmington set up colorful blocks, a balance beam and other fun activities for children under 5. Families smiled for the camera, wearing funny hats and masks, creating instant memories in JoAnne Hewlett’s Make A Memory Photo Booth. The event also featured educators from Parents as Teachers, an early-school readiness program, and the March of Dimes, which co-sponsors the NICU reunion.
Pete Rudloff of Bear, Del., came to the reunion with his daughter Ciara, born in 2007 at 25 weeks gestation. At birth, she weighed less than two pounds. She spent 90 days in the NICU.
“When we were here I was a strong advocate for my daughter,” Rudloff said. “The staff respected my interest and later asked me back to talk with dads. I’ve been happy to do it, because I know dads can sometimes feel left out.”
He likes coming to the NICU reunions with his family and is grateful for how well his daughter is doing today. “She is 100 percent perfect,” he said. “She dealt with a lot of things in the hospital, but once she got home she grew to be the healthiest kid in school.”
Appreciative parents also sought out David A. Paul, M.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics, and John Stefano, M.D., director of Neonatology, to show how their children are growing.
“It takes a village to take care of our babies in the NICU,” said Dr. Stefano, who pointed out that there are close to 1,200 NICU admissions a year. “Our goal is always to work as a team and pull together in support of our families who are so important in the care of their babies. In that regard, we dedicate ourselves to making sure that everything at Christiana Care is family-centered.”
That includes 72 new “babycams,” technology that allows mothers and fathers to view their babies in the NICU 24 hours a day through a laptop, smartphone or other device.
“Mothers and fathers can’t be there 24/7, but they can see their babies at any time thanks to the cameras,” said Anne Costello, RN, a NICU nurse. “That’s made a big difference in parents feeling connected to their babies. They just love it.”
The NICU staff say the upbeat reunion brings enormous pleasure shared by both parents and staff. “When we see how much this means to families it inspires us to do all that we do,” said Bonnie Chavez, BSN, RNC, assistant nurse manager.