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Chad Ryan|
A performer from TAG Art holds a ringneck dove for Hayden Hammel, 3, to pet during the 32nd annual Parkview NICU Reunion.

NICU event reunites families with nurses

Parents develop connections with staff in care unit

There were face painting, a giant slide, food and even a stand where workers turned old neckties into pet snakes.

It seemed to be geared toward kids, but the 32nd annual reunion of children who had been in Parkview Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was, in a way, as much for the nurses and the parents.

Thousands of children have passed through the NICU since it was established about 40 years ago, some born months premature, others with respiratory or genetic problems. Some stay for just a day or two, but others remain there for weeks or months.

In the case of the long-term NICU patients, the parents and the nurses who care for their children become close, almost like family, and sometimes they keep in touch for years.

So once a year the hospital holds its reunion, where nurses get to see what has become of the 1-pound babies they cared for years before.

Deborah Bellville, who was a nurse in the unit for 13 years and is now a manager, said she remembers the parents mostly, but then she’ll see a child who was born at 1 pound who is now 5 years old and running around and doing flips.

A man of about 30 showed up last year with a couple of kids in tow, Bellville said.

When asked which of his kids had been in the NICU, his answer was neither. He was in the unit 30 years before. When he was growing up, he would hear his parents mention the names of the nurses who cared for him, and he showed up hoping to meet them.

Then there is Whitney Schrader. Two years ago come July her daughter was born after just 27 weeks. She suffered from a condition where her body and her baby’s body were fighting each other. An early delivery was vital to save both their lives. Her daughter spent three months to the day in the NICU.

Today Schrader’s daughter is small for her age, not even on the charts, her mother said, and she has lung problems, but she’s alive and active and otherwise normal.

Schrader is working with a nurse in the NICU writing a book that is designed to help parents get through the ordeal of having a baby end up in the NICU.

The book will be designed to inform parents, to let them know it’s OK to ask all kinds of questions and even be angry, Schrader said.

But being written in part by a parent who’s been there the bookwill allow nurses to relate better to the parents and help them understand what they are going through.