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Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital staff reconnect with past patients at NICU reunion

Children who were once in the neonatal ICU reunited with hospital staff for an even that had previously been shuttered by the pandemic.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A special group of children experienced a day of fun with several familiar faces from the medical field.

The reunion between staff members of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital’s NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and the many kids they once helped came after the event had been cancelled in the past as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Children who were a part of NICU – regarded as “NICU Graduates” – required hospitalization after being born. Those children can be born premature, sick or just require extra care.

“It's really heartwarming -- it's uplifting,” said NICU Family Support Program Coordinator Amy Nyberg. “I think that staff really enjoy seeing these kids grow up and know that all of their good work their hard work every day turns out to be very successful because turnout to grow up and they're happy and just turn out like every other kid their age and so it's really a happy day.”

Nyberg, a former NICU mother herself, said no one ever expects to have their child in the neonatal ICU.

“It is really heartbreaking to be there and not be able to do all have the normal things that you would want to do as a mom,” she said. “And then you learn that the staff in the neonatal unit are so wonderful at caring for these babies -- saving their lives.”

One set of parents who made a point to say “thank you” included Alex and Alexis Hawkins. Their daughter Valerie – now 10 months old – was diagnosed with Hirschsprung's disease days after a normal birth. The baby spent five months within the NICU.

“Not only did she build connections with the staff, we had some regular primary nurses while we were here,” Alexis said. “They became family and really our support -- which is crazy, you would never think that -- but it's really been nice to see her get reunited -- there are a handful that regularly keep in contact since we've even left so when she sees them, I do believe that she remembers them even only being at 10 months old.

“And it's really sweet to see -- that we I always call them her aunts and uncles, you know from afar, so I always say, “Auntie Hannah’ and I think that she knows who that is, which is incredible.”

Those interested in supporting the hospital’s neonatal unit can do so by contacting Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children's Hospital Foundation. A wish list can also be found on their website.

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