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20th Anniversary "NICU Round-Up" Reunites, Families and Caregivers

Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow

BOSTON -- Mighty oaks from little acorns grow. Take Anthony for example. Anthony was born 12 weeks premature weighing a mere 2 pounds, 10 ounces. Like countless babies born too soon or too sick, Anthony needed specialized care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit before he could go home.

The BIDMC Klarman Family NICU celebrated its 20th Anniversary recently with a special reunion, bringing together NICU "graduates" like Anthony, their families, and the nurses, doctors and staff who took care of them.

"It was a wonderful celebration and a tremendous opportunity to renew ties with families," said DeWayne Pursley, MD, BIDMC's Chief of Neonatology. "Seeing these thriving children was also a source of great affirmation for the staff. Just the inspiration we need as we work hard to continuously improve, looking toward the next 20 years."

More than 1,300 guests turned out for the western-themed "NICU Round-Up." Families and staff were treated to a fun-filled day at Kimball Farm in Westford. As families and staff re-connected, unlimited ice cream and family-friendly activities such as mini-golf, bumper boats, bounce houses, lawn games, driving range, batting cages, volleyball, and face painting provided plenty of fun for kids (and adults) of all ages. Mother Nature provided a beautiful fall day with plenty of sunshine!

"Thank you for such a great event … it truly was one of the best events I have been to with my children," said Leigh D'Agostine, mother to twins, now age three. "It was also great to see all the other families who have been so touched by your NICU and have a chance to talk to some of them about our experiences there. We will never be able to express how much the NICU means to our family - we were blessed to have had you then, and now - when we can celebrate life with you!"

The event was chaired by Elyse Rubin. Elyse and her husband Howard are no strangers to the challenges of having a baby born early. Their daughter, Naomi, was born 10 weeks early, and spent two months in the NICU. Naomi is now 13 and has performed in the Boston Ballet's Nutcracker for several years now.

"This was a wonderfully organized and attended event that was truly enjoyed by everyone, no matter what your age," said Rubin. "There were activities for everyone, including the amazing opportunity to reconnect with families and staff. It meant a lot for me and my family to be a part of it."

The NICU opened its doors in 1992 when it expanded its clinical offerings to include tertiary care for some of the smallest, sickest newborns. Led by Pursley, the NICU has grown from 20 beds and five full-time faculty neonatologists in the early-'90s to 48 beds and 12 full-time neonatologists, eight nurse practitioners, a nursing staff of approximately 120, and other clinical and support staff including respiratory therapists, nutritionists, social workers, lactation consultants, occupational and physical therapists, unit assistants, to name a few.

As meaningful as this special reunion was for families, it was equally special for staff, who treasured the opportunity to reconnect with families, and see how their children have grown.

The reunion was amazing, exclaimed Roseanne Buck, NP, a neonatal nurse practitioner. "Getting to greet the families as they came in was so worth it for me. Two families came back to seek me out, to thank me for all I did for them. It was truly was heartwarming."

"As I said to many parents, when their babies get home from the hospital, the true work is done by them," added Buck. "It is so rewarding to see how the children have grown - the joy and hope they inspire gives me the confidence to reassure parents everyday in the NICU."

Today, at 17, Anthony stands head and shoulders (and possibly more!) over his doting mother. He weighs 286 pounds and is 6'3" - and is a tight end for his high school football team (with dreams of playing that position for the New England Patriots!) A mighty oak indeed.