Hundreds of people gathered at Jeneece Place at the Victoria General Hospital on Thursday to celebrate the “graduation” of young babies from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The NICU is the only facility on Vancouver Island which can help premature and high-risk babies born before 32 weeks.
Families of babies who had spent any amount of time in the NICU return for the event every year to celebrate their triumphs and reconnect with other families and nurses they’d met.
One of the families there were Jasna, Bryan and Mia Tennant.
Mia was born with a genetic condition called CHARGE Syndrome, which can affect the development of many parts of her body.
“It caused her nasal passages to be completely blocked, and she needed multiple surgeries to open up her nose,” Brian said. “She was tiny when she was born, so they couldn’t do it until she was bigger.”
Mia was in the NICU for three and a half months, staying in the top-tier red level the entire time.
“A lot of folks suggested we move over to Vancouver to BC Children’s [Hospital] thinking we’d have better care there,” Brian said. “But we’re very happy that we stayed here. It’s a smaller team, they get to know you super well, they’re great doctors and nurses.”
Brian’s sister, Megan Nahser was a registered nurse at the Royal Jubilee Hospital, but after seeing her niece go through the NICU she felt motivated to do more.
“I went to school after seeing her in the NICU and the work that they did,” Nahser said. “It was amazing how they worked together… They really took a family approach to nursing. You didn’t just nurse the baby, but you nursed the family as well and really made them be a part of the team.”
Nahser was hired as a NICU registered nurse at the Victoria General Hospital after completing her courses.
For Rebecca and Matthew Sarachman, having the team support them and their daughter Oakleigh, who was born six weeks early, meant the world.
“It was awesome, because we’re first-time parents we had no idea what we were doing and you just have this tiny little baby that’s covered in cords and alarms and you think the world is going to end because you can’t help her,” Rebecca said. “They were really good, they taught us how to give her a bath and all the important stuff.”
For Marissa Mack, having Jeneece Place available made her feel at home even though she was five hours away from her hometown near Tofino. Her son, Freddie, was born premature and needed to gain weight, something that was especially hard over Christmas.
“I love them, the staff are amazing. I stopped by twice to see if I could catch any of them just to say hi because I miss them,” Mack said.
For NICU nurse, and NICU Reunion organizer Tami Ruch, the annual event brings a full-circle experience.
“It is really rewarding, this is the best part. You see the parents in their worst spaces because they’re in really stressful moments in their life, ” Ruch said. “When they come back I feel like you see them almost like new people because they’re happy and thriving.”
Anyone interested in donating to the NICU can contact the Victoria Hospitals Foundation at vicotriahf.ca .
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