These NICU Grads Are All Grown Up

Nearly 800 children and their families met up for the 38th NICU/ICN grad party at Packard Children’s to reunite with the caregivers who saved them.

Former NICU patients and families meet up for the 38th grad party.

Over the last five years, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford has provided care for more than 6,500 babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and intermediary care nursery (ICN). At this year’s NICU/ICN graduation party, former patients and their families had the heartwarming opportunity to reconnect with their dedicated care teams—nurses, neonatologists, social workers, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, and child life specialists. Held on Stanford University’s Dean’s Lawn, this event, now in its 38th year, signified the long-awaited return of a cherished reunion, marking the first in-person gathering since the onset of the pandemic.

“It’s one of our favorite days of the year,” said Melissa Scala, MD, neonatologist and medical director of NICU Development Care at Packard Children’s Hospital, who paused to hug Marisol Herrera-Nara, a proud mother who held her son, Elijah, dressed in a tiger onesie. “It makes you remember why you stayed up all night. Why you stressed and worried at the bedside and tried to comfort parents and give them hope. It’s a huge source of joy to see them, and a reason to do what we do.”

For mother Claudia Villalobos, the reunion held special significance. “It meant a lot because I saw other babies and kids that are also considered to be miracle babies.”

Villalobos was admitted to the hospital after being airlifted to Packard Children’s when her aorta ruptured. Her son, Diego, was delivered by C-section at just 29 weeks, and he was cared for by a specialized team in the Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, also known as the Nest. One week later, Villalobos underwent open-heart surgery. Today mother and child are doing well, and Diego, who loves Super Mario and SpongeBob, spends his time performing with Academia Folclórico Colibrí.

Nurses Jasmine Madlangbayan from the NICU and Ami Wells from the ICN collaborated as facilitators on the graduation party committee. They enlisted Disney characters and invited various entertainers to the event to make the day extra-special. The Packard Children’s NICU/ICN reunion featured a photo booth, craft table, tattoo boutique, and bracelet-making station for added fun. Families indulged in a range of snacks, including pretzels, popcorn, and lemonade. In the Enchanted Tiki room, a bird show captivated attendees.

“It is so meaningful to see them all come back and just be kids,” said Luanne Smedley, former nurse and current executive director and associate chief nursing officer of the Johnson Center for Pregnancy and Newborn Services of Stanford Medicine Children’s Health. “Just normal kids at a petting zoo, doing crafts, and eating churros and cotton candy. All the things we expect kids to be doing.”

This event would not be possible without the contributions of generous volunteers and donors, including our staff at Packard Children’s; the Roth Auxiliary; Boy Scout Troup 2457; Happy Birds; Friendly Pony Party; Joy in Colors; Breze, Inc.; Della Events; and Jenny’s Churros and Pretzels. We thank them for their support.


One Response to “These NICU Grads Are All Grown Up”

  1. Yen Hoang

    Hello, my son was a nicu baby ay Lucille, but didn’t get any notice this year about the grad party. I had attended in the past before covid and was wondering when they would have it again, so we are sad to hear we missed it. Is there a mailing list or a website we can be on or check out to find out about future events?




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