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The NICU Reunion serves as a celebration of life and a reminder of hope for the caregivers “who were never willing to give up, even when the chances of progress were bleak.”

Published Mar 21st, 2023

By Michelle Ryan

Some of USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital’s smallest patients will return to the hospital to celebrate overcoming the odds of being born premature, underweight or ill with those who helped them survive and thrive in their earliest days.

Graduates of the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) are invited to the annual NICU Reunion on Saturday, April 1, from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. in the hospital courtyard. This will mark the 31st such gathering where NICU graduates and their families will reunite in person with their former caregivers and fellow NICU families, and the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manimaran (Maran) Ramani, M.D., M.P.H., M.S.H.A., M.S.H.Q.S., division chief and medical director for the NICU, described the event as a “celebration of life and a reminder of hope.”

“The parents and staff involved in caring for a sick infant undergo an emotional rollercoaster during the NICU stay,” he said. “Seeing the sick pre-term infant walking towards us and smiling at the NICU reunions constantly reminds us why we do what we do.”

Ramani said the reunion is a poignant reminder of the power of hope for NICU staff “who were never willing to give up, even when the chances of progress were bleak.”

Kathryn Cartee, R.N.C., B.S.N., C.N.V., NICU transport and outreach coordinator, said she and other NICU staff know that it’s not a place that parents hope their baby will be, but they do their best to make a stressful time a little better.

“There are a lot of ups and downs, tears and laughs, but bonds are made with the staff and baby and parents, and the reunion is another way to celebrate those friendships, as well as get to see our babies continuing to grow and thrive,” she said. “Seeing this is what keeps us going, even on the bad days. It’s kind of a little ‘wink’ letting us know we are right where we need to be.”

A full afternoon of activities is planned for the reunion, including food, games, raffle drawings, a photo booth, an Easter egg hunt, the Easter Bunny, Azalea Trail Maids and more. NICU Reunion T-shirts also will be available for purchase.

“This event is a wonderful time for our NICU families to reconnect with each other and with the caregivers in our neonatal ICU,” said Deborah Browning, M.S.N., R.N., C.E.N.P., interim hospital administrator and chief nursing officer. “It’s so meaningful for all of us at Children’s & Women’s Hospital to see our tiniest babies return to visit as thriving toddlers and school-age children. It’s a joyous event for all of us!”

The Hollis J. Wiseman NICU at USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital is designated as a level III NICU, where premature and critically ill newborns receive advanced care.

Nearly 1,000 babies are admitted annually to the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, with more than 20 percent of those infants brought from other hospitals by the USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital special transport vehicle. 

All former NICU patients are welcome, no matter their current age. For more information, call 251-415-1274.

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