Reunion to celebrate former NICU patients, familiesSep. 11, 2019, 2:18 PM
by Jessica Pasley
It’s been 15 years since Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt held a reunion for its tiniest patients.
On Sunday, Sept. 15, 176 families — approximately 600 people — will gather in the theater of Children’s Hospital from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to reminisce, hug members of their care teams and celebrate their children’s graduation from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
The event, “Once Upon A Time,” will celebrate the NICU graduates with a family photo booth, games, face painting, a story nook and refreshments. Families can submit ‘then’ and ‘now’ photos that will be shared during a slideshow. There will also be a “quiet zone” with calming music and lighting, including sensory activities for those who may get overwhelmed by too much activity and stimulation.
Event organizers received such an overwhelming response for attendance that they will issue save the date cards for the 2020 reunion.
“We see the positive impact of returning families when they come to see the staff and we get to see how well our former patients are progressing,” said Stephanie Abbu, DNP, CNML, clinical business coordinator for Neonatal Services at Children’s Hospital. “Our staff remembers caring for these infants and knows that all the hard work and care they gave make a difference for these babies and families. And parents love getting to share updates with staff and reconnect with families that were in the NICU at the same time.”
Abbu said the return of the event came after a conversation among the NICU leadership team that highlighted how much they appreciated their staff as well as how much families value them.
September is NICU Awareness Month, and Sept. 15 is Neonatal Nurses Day. During planning, Abbu knew the event was meant to be when the Children’s Hospital theater was available on the same day that recognizes the nurses who care for this special patient population.
“This is the perfect day to celebrate the work these nurses do and the care they give,” said Abbu. “We are invested in giving these infants the best possible outcome. It is a privilege and a tremendous responsibility to be trusted with such fragile patients.”
Lucinda Bachman will be among those returning to the hospital for the reunion. She vividly recalls the night two years ago she went into labor. A storm was blowing through, making phone connection difficult. After a couple of attempts, she was advised to come to the hospital after complaints of stomach pains and inability to sleep.
Her son, Landon, was born at 33 weeks, and is now a healthy 2-year-old.
“It was my first pregnancy and we were so shocked and not at all ready for the baby yet. It was too early. They tried to stop or slow down my labor.”
Bachman and her husband, Tony, are grateful for the care the family received. She said the staff showed incredible compassion and patience in teaching them how to take care of Landon.
“When I got the reunion invitation in the mail, we were so excited,” said Bachman. “I showed it to Landon, and he kept saying ‘we go to party at my hospital?’
“It will be wonderful to meet other parents and hopefully see some of the same families from our stay. And it will truly be great to just say thank you to all the wonderful nurses. They didn’t just care for Landon, they took care of all us.”
One of the oldest reunion attendees will be 27-year-old Jonathan Johnson, who weighed 1 pound, 14 ounces when he was born on Christmas Eve in 1991. He arrived about three and a half months early and required a nearly five-month NICU stay.
“Today, I couldn’t be any healthier,” said Johnson. “I’m sure the care I received was phenomenal. My mom told me doctors had to resuscitate me three times.
“If I had to say anything to the nurses or doctors who took care of me, I’d have to tell them, ‘thank you.’ They worked hard to make sure not only myself, but other babies that were fighting for their lives were strong and healthy.”
For more information go to NICUreunion2019.com.