For her first breaths of life, Lucy Hannah had a hole in her lung. Wade McReynolds weighed two pounds when he saw the light of day as a preemie at 29 weeks. Victoria General Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit became home to their parents.
A year or a few years later, these kids and dozens of others run and play at the 27th annual NICU reunion at the hospital, as parents swap stories and give hugs to medical staff who saved their children’s lives. About 500 newborns per year go through the NICU.
“It was really hard at the time. The doctors and nurses were so helpful, they gave such good care,” said Katie Hannah, mother of one-year-old Lucy and her twin Emma. The girls were 33-week preemies.
“Nurses and moms really bond when you’re in there. It’s an intense time. When I see them I give them a big hug, and the doctors too.”
Nicole and Trevor McReynolds help two-year-old Wade blow bubbles at the outdoor party, and recalled a lot of tough hours and days at the NICU. Nicole’s water broke at 23 weeks and she had to lie still for six weeks before her son was born.
“They said the chances of him surviving and without problems was not good at all. But there’s nothing wrong with him,” Nicole said. “He’s as healthy as anything. He’s a real little miracle.”
These stories of survival and strength of the smallest patients highlighted the importance of a long term gift announced Thursday – professional firefighters in Greater Victoria are donating $25,000 per year for the next 10 years to VGH pediatric care.
Saanich, Victoria, Oak Bay and Esquimalt fire departments, under the Professional Firefighters of Greater Victoria Foundation, will direct their fundraising cash to the Victoria Hospitals Foundation, which in turn will direct it to equipment in the NICU and pediatric unit.
“Sustainable funding is different for us. Pledging $250,000 over 10 years allows us to do planning around that. It’s fantastic,” said Starr McMichael, chair of the Victoria Hospitals Foundation. “It also shows people in the community what can be done. These firefighters risk their lives everyday for us. They really have gone beyond the call of duty.
“It’s money well spent on saving the lives of the tiniest people.”
Saanich firefighter Jared Barker said aiming for $25,000 per year comes on the backs of firefighters who have established strong fundraising networks and events.
“We sat around and got an idea of what each department is capable of doing. The advantage we have as firefighter is that we have no hidden costs, this is done as volunteer work,” Barker said.
“We’re just blue collar guys who have got the opportunity to do this. We want to help Vancouver Island’s tiniest patients and their families. We are all thrilled to be working on such a critical project.”
The VGH pediatric unit delivers 2,700 babies per year and all hospital births in Greater Victoria. Ninety per cent of injured and sick children on Vancouver Island are treated at VGH.
The firefighter donation isn’t yet earmarked for anything specific in pediatrics, but it won’t take long for the doctors and staff to draw up wish lists. Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Brian Sinclair said the unit’s greatest challenge is the capital cost of new equipment – incubators, vital sign monitors and ventilators eventually need replacing.
“We know we’ll need equipment updates and new technology, and knowing this money is there is great,” Sinclair said. “When the need comes up, this contribution will be in the back of our minds.”
Neonatologist Dr. Cherrie Tan-Dy has her eye on updating the NICU family room, where aging furniture and a couple beds allow out-of-town parents to catch a few moments of rest.
“Some preemies require intensive care for a long time. Babies can be in the NICU for four months at a time,” Tan-Dy said. “Every year we want to improve the family room, but it’s always at the bottom of the list. Maybe this can help make it happen.”
For donate to the Victoria Hospitals Foundation, see www.victoriahf.ca.