Hospital newborn unit celebrates 'graduates'

August 01, 1994|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Sun Staff Writer

The importance of Harbor Hospital's Special Care Nursery could be measured this weekend in the crowd of former patients who, with their parents, turned out for a reunion picnic.

Without the constant care provided by the nursery staff in the days and weeks after their birth, many of the youngsters might not have been there Saturday, posing for pictures and being fussed over by hospital workers.

The nursery was a short stop for some of the newborns, a place to keep an eye on them while they stabilized. For others the nursery was home for up to four months. Some of the children were born premature, others were born on time, but suffered from complications such as respiratory problems.

"I can't begin to say thank you and how I feel about what they did," said Lee Russo, the mother of 15-month-old triplet boys who spent one month and a day in the nursery after they were born two months premature and underweight.

The special care nursery started three years ago, when Dr. Larry Yap, a neonatologist, came to the hospital. The picnics followed.

"We're just glad to see them. The main objective is to stay in touch and see how well the infants are doing after a year," said Dr. Yap, director of the special care nursery.

Nurses at Harbor Hospital hold bake sales and wine-tasting fund- raisers throughout the year to put on the free picnic. It has grown beyond the capacity of the hospital's 150-seat auditorium, spilling onto the lawn.

Though a clown-magician and face painting provide entertainment, nurses, doctors and parents say the best time is just talking, holding babies, and catching up on each others' lives.

"I can't imagine missing it, even when Benjamin is 21 and gone his way. They're special people," said Dave Martin, who lives in Edmondson Heights in Baltimore County.

His son was born seven weeks premature with underdeveloped lungs. He couldn't breathe on his own and had to be put on a respirator. Benjamin, who will be 2 in November, spent more than a month in the nursery before being transferred to another hospital.

The switch was difficult, emotionally. "We had formed pretty strong bonds with the nurses there," said Mr. Martin, who calls the nurses "friends."

Once, they took his wife, Linda, out for a movie to take her mind off their son's condition, he said.

When their children were in the nursery, parents said, the nurses talked to them each step of the way, explaining the equipment attached to their babies, keeping them abreast of improvements in their child's health, telling them what may happen, and introducing them to other parents.

"I made some friends there," said Mrs. Russo, who lives in Pasadena. "Because of them, I made it through."

The feeling is mutual, the doctors and nurses say.

"We really find we develop a special relationship with the parents and babies who stay a week or longer," said Amy Foy, a nursery nurse.

"It's just so important to see these babies after they've left. We had seen them when they were at their sickest. We wanted to see them when they were happy toddlers. We want to see them bouncing in mom's and dad's lap," said Ms. Foy.

The job can be emotionally taxing, seeing tiny babies so sick and their parents so worried, she said. "I love taking care of them when they're sick, but I love it even better when they're well," Ms. Foy said.

The feelings aren't contained to the day of the picnic, either.

Mrs. Russo stops by the hospital throughout the year with her sons, Matthew, Brandon and Paul Jr., to visit with the professionals she thinks of as extended family.

"I think I speak for all parents when I say this," Mr. Martin said. "The reason we go back is just simply to see them. What other reason would there be to go back? Is it to show off how well your child is doing? Yeah, that's a little bit of it. But it's to renew your relationship with them and to get a hug."

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