March 8, 2019

NICU Reunion strengthens ‘family’ bonds

Given the close ties families with premature babies form with medical staff in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), it’s little wonder that hundreds of parents and kids turned out for a day of food and fun during the fourth annual reunion at UAMS Medical Center April 11, 2015.

“Typically, when you think of a hospital stay, you’re thinking of a few days at most. But with babies, it can be hundreds of days. They become more like family to us, so it’s kind of like a family reunion,” said Alexandra Warner, a nurse in the UAMS NICU. “We get to see them and catch up on all the milestones they’ve accomplished.”

Warner pointed out a family whose baby she cared for in the NICU who is now 6 years old.

“I’ve kept up with them for six years and watched them grow. I’ve become part of their life and they’ve become a part of mine. But they live far away, so we mainly keep up through social media.”

Befitting that kind of family reunion atmosphere, the day was filled with food, photos and fun activities like face painting. The afternoon event also included a drive-up car seat check-up. Seats deemed to be in poor condition or outdated were replaced for free, with a careful eye to install them correctly. One family drove away with four new seats thanks to the event.

Warner said the nurses and doctors of the NICU are just as thrilled as the families at the reunion event, as they form ties, too.

“As the only hospital in Arkansas with all private rooms in the NICU, that gives them an environment to get to know the families on a personal basis better. Instead of 50 babies all in one area, it helps build a bond. These families pretty much can live here – they eat here, sleep here, shower and can even do laundry. Some barely ever leave, so they pretty much live with us.”

Even those who are distant are close. Some parents cannot be with their hospitalized baby because of work or family, or they themselves are ill or hospitalized. These parents, and others they allow, can stay connected to their newborns via telemedicine. Angel Eye cameras provide a video feed to look in on their baby anytime, and access can be granted even to those who are in other states or countries. Also, monitors allow parents to meet with doctors and nurses face to face over video calls.

“Most of the time , the families start off very nervous or on edge a little bit because they’ve lost control and don’t get to say when baby gets changed or fed. But by the end of it, they trust us and understand we’re doing everything we can for their child and we try to include them in caring for their infant as much as we possibly can.”

Warner speaks from experience. The mother of two premature babies, she’s lived it. And, like hundreds of others, she brings her children to the reunion event every year.

“They love it and look forward to it every year.”