Shaylene Evans and her eight-and-a-half-month-old daughter Aryonna

Remembering where you came from

Victoria General Hospital hosted its 28th annual neonatal intensive care reunion party, Aug. 9.

Anyone who’s ever had a child knows how even a healthy newborn can feel overwhelming.

But when that new baby is taken to intensive care, the intensity of emotions are almost impossible for most of parents to imagine.

For Dustan and Kerri Roberts, it’s an experience they know all too well. Their 17-month-old daughter Abbygail spent her first three months – 155 days – in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Having a sick newborn was only half the struggle for the family. They were also mourning the loss of Abbygail’s twin, who passed away eight days after being born.

Throughout Abbygail’s stay at the NICU, the staff not only helped care for the child, but they were there for her parents too.

“They really helped with mental support,” said the father.

Last week, the Roberts brought their daughter back to Victoria General Hospital, but this time it was to celebrate.

They joined other families who have experienced life in the NICU. The hospital hosted its 28th annual neonatal intensive care reunion party, Aug. 9.

All of the parents and grandparents bonded with each other and the hospital staff were able to see their former sick patients thrive.

Those staff helped build some wonderful memories for the Roberts family, including Abbygail’s first party.

“On her 100th day in the NICU, I came in and Abbygail was wearing a princess crown. They are our milestones, but not normal milestones,” said Kerri. “It’s really great to see everyone again.”

Dozens of past NICU patients filled the VGH rooftop with their families, some young patients recently discharged and others in their 20s. But the emotional day is also a special one for the staff.

“It’s just so encouraging to see the big kids,” said Dr. Connie Harris, NICU pharmacist. “When we first meet parents in the NICU they are frightened and confused.”

The reunion party is a reminder to Harris and other hospital staff about how their tiny patients grow up and lead fulfilling lives. Harris points out it’s tough to see tiny sick babies and this party allows staff to see the positive outcomes.

It wasn’t that long ago when Shaylene Evans gave birth to her daughter Aryonna with a birth weight of three pounds, two ounces.

“She was three months early,” Evans explained quietly. “I had a lot of bawling sessions.”

The young mother lives in Ladysmith and was able to stay in Victoria to visit her daughter daily through a donation made by the Help Fill a Dream Foundation. She stayed at the Easter Seal House in Victoria and took two buses to the hospital.

“I never missed a day,” Evans said. Dealing with a newborn with a collapsed lung and seizures was a lot for the mother, but she said the care her daughter received from the NICU staff was amazing.

While her daughter Aryonna has grown into a healthier 18 pound baby, she lives with a chronic lung disease and needs to use two inhalers everyday.

Other than coming to the hospital to celebrate her daughter’s achievements, Evans also came to help another family.

She’s meeting a couple whose baby is currently in the NICU with the same lung disease. Evans came to give them support and share her experiences.

No matter how long the stay in the NICU, it’s a tough time for any parent to go through.

Robyn Copp’s daughter, Shonagh, spent 11 days in the hospital, after being born six weeks early.

Now a happy, healthy nine-and-a-half-year-old, she has no recollection of the tough start she had in life. But for her mother, the memories haven’t faded. “It was such a scary time,” recalled Copp, smiling at her daughter beside her. “She was kind of like a half baked cookie.”

charla@goldstreamgazette.com