On Saturday October 10th 2009, Avera McKennan hosted a unique celebration of life. Its 9th annual reunion for babies who spent time in their Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and have since graduated! The theme was A Roarin' Good Time and it was.
One year old Talen Harms from Yankton celebrated his 1st birthday last month (September 24). For a little boy who came 2 1/2 months early, spent 4 months in Avera Children's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and has had 6 surgeries to date, turning one is a joyous milestone for his mom and dad, Elycia and Marty Harms.
Elycia says, "He's been doing wonderfully now. He's crawling all over the place, pulling himself up. He's definitely gotten a lot better."
When Avera McKennan's NICU nurses invited the Harms' to the 9th Annual NICU Graduate Reunion Party they, along with hundreds of other families with NICU grads, joined the Halloween-themed celebration under the dome at the Avera Sports Institute.
NICU RN Laura Bonacker is the reunion organizer. She started the event 9 years ago after her own baby boy was admitted into the NICU. She says, "We always say our patients don't talk to us, but the families do. We try to incorporate the families in whatever we do, especially for the babies who are there a long time. We really have a special bond with the families. Plus, the nurses like to see the kids come back and we like to see them healthy and it makes us feel good to see them with their family growing up. It's super rewarding for us.
It's fun for the reporter too. I first met Jackson Jones and his mom Becky from Hartington, NE a year ago in the NICU. He was 9 weeks early and was hooked up to all kinds of tubes. Today he is healthy and perfect.
Elycia Harms says, "The staff and nurses and doctors were so helpful. They made us feel at home, which it was our home for a while. You don't want to have the experience, but when you do it's nice to know that is what it's like. It's comforting."
And that's exactly why they have this reunion, every little animal or power ranger or bumble bee has a story, a rough beginning, and each of their parents has a special bond with the Avera NICU nurses that helped them through it. In my book, there is nothing cuter than babies in costumes and no greater treat than watching these kids grow up to be happy and healthy trick or treaters.