Pandemic Won’t Dampen Celebratory Spirit of Annual NICU Reunion

Each September, hundreds of graduates of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and their families converge on the Dean’s Lawn for the annual NICU Graduate Party. The last reunion, held in 2019, was attended by approximately 400 graduates and families, including doctors, nurses, physical/occupational therapists, social workers, and others on the NICU teams. The pandemic has prevented the NICU from holding reunions for the past two years, but it hasn’t dampened the celebratory spirit of knowing that graduates are thriving.

NICU grad Avi is an active 2-year-old who loves dancing to Lion King and playing with his big sisters. His parents, Kristin Stecher and Rushabh Doshi, credit the expertise of the Packard Children’s NICU team with saving his life.

“Immediately, when Avi was born his doctors knew something was wrong,” said Kristin Stecher, Avi’s mom. “He was blue and had a loud heart murmur. It was very clear he wasn’t getting the oxygen he needed on his own and would need medical intervention. We were told that the only place he could receive the kind of diagnostic tests and treatments he needed was Packard Children’s. There was really no decision to be made—we wanted him at Packard Children’s, and we wanted him there as quickly as possible.”

Avi was diagnosed with a premature closure of the ductus arteriosus, causing his heart to enlarge, which led to other complications, such as persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN). Left untreated, Avi faced significant neurodevelopmental impairment or even death. After 10 days, he finally graduated from the NICU.

“We’re sad we can’t have the reunion this year,” said Jasmine Madlangbayan, RN, a NICU nurse. “It’s gratifying seeing all the patients we cared for doing so well,” she added.

The families love the reunion too, according to Roberta Harryman, RN, a Packard Children’s employee of 38 years whose role has included planning the NICU Graduate Party each year. “It’s important for them to come back to see us and share the wonderful job we did and how their children are thriving. The families can’t wait to show off their adorable children. They can’t thank us enough. It’s all smiles, all day.”

Harryman specializes in the care of sick babies, especially those with heart issues or who are recovering from cardiac surgery. Taking a newborn home after heart surgery or other serious conditions is frightening for families, especially seeing their child with chest tubes and wires, and on a heart-lung machine or other life-sustaining device. Harryman is assuring to families and coaches them on home care and what to expect.

Roberta Harryman, RN, a 38-year employee has planned the NICU Grad Party each year. She will retire in November 2021.

Harryman also offers career guidance to NICU graduates who are now adults starting jobs. She recently helped Heather Magrin, RN, get hired in the NICU. “She was a preemie and a twin, and I took care of them in the NICU 24 years ago,” said Harryman. “Now we’re working together.”

Harryman is retiring later this year and is looking forward to becoming a first-time grandmother. She’s also excited to attend future reunions when the NICU group can safely gather again after the pandemic.


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