Rockford Register Star: Mercyhealth NICU hosts 33rd annual reunion, several hundred families bring their grads

ROCKFORD — Laci Halverson was nearly two months pregnant when doctors confirmed she was carrying triplets.

Thus began her ongoing relationship with Mercyhealth’s neonatal intensive care unit at 2400 Rockton Ave.

Halverson’s family joined hundreds of other families who returned to the hospital today for the 33rd annual NICU reunion. There were games, ponies, gifts, prizes and warm greetings from the NICU’s medical staff members.

Several recognized Halverson and her 4-year-old triplets — Spencer, Harper and Cooper — who stayed in the NICU for two-and-a-half weeks.

“They have a fantastic staff,” the Sterling mom said. “It’s great to come back and see everybody and say thanks. We had great care when we were here.”

Mercyhealth manages the region’s only Level III NICU. The 52-bed unit provides care for premature and critically ill newborns. Its small baby section cares for babies born before 27 weeks or weighing less than 2.2 pounds.

They may stay with the NICU’s specialized staff up to “many, many months,” said Pam Allen, nurse manager.

For this year’s reunion, about 1,400 invitations were sent out.

“We’ve had a great turnout,” Allen said. “They like to reconnect with the staff that has taken care of their babies. They don’t expect to have their baby be sick. It’s really a life-changing time for them to be in the unit. It builds a lifelong bond. We love reconnecting with them.”

Registered nurse Missy Mann said she doesn’t always immediately remember the names when she sees familiar faces at the reunion. But slowly, memories of the families and the childrens’ challenges return.

“It’s so nice to see how good they’re doing,” Mann said. “We see them start so little and they’re big. It’s great to see.”

Javier and Christian Martinez have been taking their daughter Genisis to the NICU reunions for years. She was a preemie who weighed 2 pounds, 5 ounces.

“It was the hardest time for us,” Christian Martinez said. “Everybody was so helpful.”

Genisis has had surgeries for her ears, tonsils and adenoids, but that didn’t stop her from enjoying a pony ride at this year’s reunion. Like other children, she wore a nametag that identified her as a NICU grad.

Rockford mom Destiny Newton took her 6-month-old boys Keontae and Kendrick to the reunion. They stayed in the NICU for three weeks.

“They took really good care of them,” she said. “It’s a blessing to see all the babies who were born prematurely and how they’re progressing.”

This story was originally published in the Rockford Register Star on Sunday, September 8, 2017.

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