Big Party for the Littlest Babies


The recent NICU Grad Party was a special event for kids like 18-month-old Joshua Wilson, whose mother Kelly had to be emergency airlifted to Packard Children’s so that Joshua could be born two months early at only 3 pounds 7 ounces. Though he was happily pushing his own stroller at the party and enjoying the day’s festivities—which included antics from Violet the Clown, fingernail painting, a petting zoo and bubbles galore—no one would know that the sturdy boy was born prematurely, and had to endure multiple surgeries to fix a bowel malformation diagnosed before he was born.

“I was a wreck for most of the time, but my nurse kept me sane,” Kelly said of her experience in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and of primary nurse Rene Tillotson. “Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital is the best.”

The grateful sentiments were shared by both parents and staff alike. Nurse Roberta Harryman — co-chair and Grad Party guru—along with nurse Barbara Boyington, have been taking care of NICU patients for more than 30 years, and never cease to be moved by seeing the crowd of happy children.  “It’s so rewarding for me to come to this party every fall and see so many of the children I cared for, who have now grown up and are bringing such joy to their parents and to the world,” Harryman said. “It’s really an extraordinary day.”

The guest list for the party, held this year on September 15, varies in age, from babies just out of the NICU to former NICU babies who are now adults and have their own babies.
“It’s an afternoon of thanks for both the staff and families,” Harryman said of the recent 31st annual reunion. “You see families from all walks of life bond with one another.”

“It’s a reunion that means so much to everyone,” said William Benitz, MD, chief of neonatology and leader of a neonatology team ranked in America’s Top 10 for providing world-class care for approximately 1200 preemies of the more than 4500 babies born at Packard Children’s each year.

“The emotional rollercoaster these families endured in the first days and weeks of their child’s life can be overwhelming,” added Benitz, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the Stanford School of Medicine. “But being with others who have been through the same experience creates a bond that will connect them forever.”


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