Smiling, happy children and babies gathered together at Victoria General Hospital on Thursday, all with one thing in common: a hard start to life.
Elise Simard spent the first 169 days of her life in hospital after being born at 26 weeks.
Although she is now three-and-a-half years old, Elise is still dealing with the impact of her premature birth, but not without improvements. Her mother, Christy, came to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) reunion with good news for the staff who once cared for Elise: her vocal chords, which have been paralyzed since birth, now have movement and she is on the way to having her tracheostomy tube removed.
“Having great staff, having the technology and equipment available, it makes the recovery so much faster. It allows you to be a family,” Christy said. “Without the technology, without the staff here, without these people, she wouldn’t have survived.”
The 29th Annual NICU Reunion Party is the Vancouver Island Health Authority’s chance to bring together parents and their children with other families who have gone through similar trying circumstances. It’s also a chance for nurses and doctors to see the happy endings to their work.
“It’s better than Christmas for me,” said Jennifer Peters, a registered nurse. “I would give up any holiday of the year for this day. It makes your job so much more important. It shows you you do actually make a difference; for the sad days this makes up for it ten-fold.”
With five years in the unit, Peters said she remembers nearly everyone who comes back to the reunions.
The premature babies often need help breathing and are unable to feed on their own, problems the unit can tackle. The babies are often kept in incubators and need IVs. Once the babies are healthier and of a certain weight they are able to go home. For many this can take months. Some never make it.
“Every little obstacle they beat is just one more step to going home,” Peters said. “You get thrown every hardship that you could possibly imagine, as a new parent, so I think this is the end result, the big finale, where they can come back every year and show us exactly how great they’re doing.”
Colleen Robertson’s daughter Faithlyn, 3, looked like the happiest little girl in the world as she followed Daisy, Island Farm’s cow mascot, around the reunion in awe and reverence. But when she was born at 27 weeks her life was in the hands of the staff of the NICU, as she relied on a breathing machine to live.
“It was nothing I’d want anyone to ever have to go through, but they did an amazing job with the circumstances,” said Robertson, a Colwood resident. “They offered us more help than we could take. They were wonderful.”
Among the babies and toddlers a 17-year-old girl, about to enter Grade 12 at Claremont secondary school, healthy and happy, may not be noticed, but Rebekah Bolinder is a NICU alum as well.
“I was two months early and I was three pounds,” Bolinder said.
Her experience of being at the reunion is a bit surreal, Bolinder said. She obviously does not remember her time at VGH, but says she still looks at photographs and videos and reflects on her rocky start to life.
“I’m really glad for all the support that I had, and family. My brother would come visit me, my older brother, he was four at the time,” Bolinder said. “It’s just really nice to see how much support I had from everyone.
“This is great, coming back and seeing all the little kids who have gone through the same experience as me.”A happy ending to a rough start