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No Presents Needed at NICU Birthday Party – Just Smiling Babies

Dad Calvin Hayes holds son Raine Walters-Hayes, who was born at 23 weeks and 2 days.

by Cheryl Hodges

The party was scheduled to take place rain or shine and attendees got some of both as a thunderstorm swept through the area where parents and their young “graduates” gathered to celebrate at Carilion Clinic’s Annual NICU Birthday Party at Honeytree Riverwalk last weekend. No one seemed to notice the storm as they conversed on the patio–happily sharing stories and chasing little ones around picnic tables and strollers, and other toddling children whose energy and sparkle gave little hint of the health challenges they had previously faced.

The NICU birthday party has taken place since the early 1980s; it celebrates all the hard work that is put into helping sick or premature babies get better and stronger.

The bond shared by families who have experienced a child’s stay in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) is unique. Some of the babies are hospitalized for weeks or months and parents spend many hours beside their child—and each other—as they endure anxious stretches of time, anticipating the day their baby can come home.

Rhett Curry, now 17 months, is the son of Amanda and Matt Curry. He was in the NICU for 29 days.

Fortunately most do, and if there is a common theme to the comments made by parents, it is that they must find a level of patience they never knew, and that the care the doctors and nurses in the unit provide for the premature and sick babies is both highly professional and refreshingly compassionate.  Gratefulness abounds.

The co-chairs of the NICU Birthday Party were nurses Tracy Bishop and Cindy Johnson, who were passing out slices of birthday cake and visiting with all the special guests. Johnson said that most people “don’t know [the magnitude of] what we do until they have to come here.” Wendi Jobe is a neonatal nurse who has worked in the unit for 14 years; she seemed to know all the parents and kids as they walked by. Jobe said of the event, “it’s a great opportunity for people to come together to celebrate the successes.”

Jobe was all smiles and said she has not experienced burnout in spite of the intensity of the job. Instead, she explained “it’s a privilege to be able to do this every day—to be in their lives at such a difficult time. I’m really blessed.”


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