Preemies, parents reunite with nurses

Sinai Hospital NICU staff welcomes families

  • Abby Smith, 13 1⁄2 months, enjoys herself as she's being held by her father, Tom Smith, of Harford County. Abby was born at 27 weeks and stayed in the NICU for two months.
Abby Smith, 13 1⁄2 months, enjoys herself as she's… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
April 12, 2010|By Liz Bowie | liz.bowie@baltsun.com

Lola Branch had complications with her pregnancy and gave birth to triplets on Nov. 30, 2007; each one was under 2 pounds and each one just a handful of a baby.

Two days after the birth, she looked through a hospital door and saw staff surrounding one of her girls and realized she was in trouble. She lost the baby, but she is still grateful for what she said is the blessing of two children, Kavona and Derrick Branch Jr.

Sunday, Branch and her family returned to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sinai Hospital for a reunion of premature babies born during the past five years and their parents to celebrate with the staff and other families. The hospital's auditorium swarmed with very active small children. Some came in pairs or threes, and some still have difficulties. Many, though, looked no different from children who had been full-term babies.

For Janice Woollen, a nurse in the unit for 34 years, that is the miracle of reunions with her patients. When she began work in the 1970s, she said, she could pick out the preemies when she saw them out in public, but as she looked at the crowd of more than 70 families who had reunited with nurses and doctors, she saw few children who weren't healthy.

"This is incredible. It is incredible to see how many of these children don't look like preemies," she said.

Technology and a drug called surfactant give many babies a chance to breathe better, survive and grow up healthier than would have 30 years ago, she said. Babies can now live even if they are born as early as 23 to 24 weeks. "We have to give the parents a lot of credit," Woollen said. Many children are able to make gains because their parents spend so much time providing them with extra attention and stimulation.

Some babies stay for a few months in the NICU unit. As a result, their mothers become close to the nurses and sometimes friends with other mothers, even after their babies are sent home.

Branch said she spent nearly every night at a special room in the NICU for months. "You are so scared that if you go home you will get that phone call," she said. Branch said she had two other children and "just wanted one more."

She never used artificial means to get pregnant, but twins run in her family, she said. Today, her two children are fine. Derrick is a little small for his size, but she expects him to catch up to his sister some day.

The baby she lost, she said, was a twin to her girl and she finds it comforting that she knows just what she would have looked like.

One-year-old Abby Smith, born at 27 weeks, is doing well today, according to her parents. Terri and Tom Smith said they wanted to see the nurses and doctors they had gotten to know so well during Abby's stay in the NICU.

Other mothers brought nurses their baby's pictures, ones taken at birth and those from today. Two mothers lined up to say hello to Woollen. They hugged nurses and doctors they hadn't seen in several years.

Christopher and Audra James had lost five babies before Christopher Jr. was born at 24 weeks. "They said it would be a roller-coaster ride, but it wasn't as bad as I thought," said Audra James. Their son is still speech-delayed, but he "is amazing," she said.

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