by Linda Friedel | Reprinted courtesy of KC Nursing News

Patrick Hennessy does not remember his first visit to Overland Park Regional Medical Center’s annual NICU celebration, but his mother, Linda, does.

“I like to show him off,” Linda Hennessy of Overland Park, said. “We were so close to those doctors and nurses. We needed to show them why they work so hard.”

Hennessy attended this year’s event, just as she has since 1992, the year Patrick was born. Hennessy delivered Patrick by cesarean section at 28 weeks gestation. After weighing in at 1 pound, 2 ounces, Patrick was admitted to the hospital’s NICU where Hennessey said she was on an emotional roller coaster for the next four months. She grew close to the physicians, repertory therapists, nurses and cardiologists who cared for her son and their family at a critical time, she said.

“We owe them so much,” she said. “There’s just no way we could every repay them.”

Each story in the NICU is unique, said Margaret Meier, NICU director at Overland Park Regional Medical Center. Meier said there are multiple reasons that send infants to the NICU such as twins, premature infants, maternal complications, respiratory infections, birth defects and infants at risk from drug withdrawal.

“We see a lot of premature babies,” she said.

Meier said NICU reunions are an opportunity for families and staff members to meet under happier circumstances, when they can see progress of the infants’ growth. Meier said parents become like family members due to the long stays in the hospital, where infants are monitored for weeks and months at a time. From a staff perspective the reunion offers a chance for the staff to reunite in a joyful setting, she said.

“It’s a celebration of the family and the babies that have been in our NICU,” Meier said.

“It’s a great time to get everyone together and see how those babies are doing. It’s just wonderful to see how that child has grown up.”

Meier has specialized in the NICU for 32 years, the past two at Overland Park Regional. She said premature infants are more at risk for developmental problems, though she has seen plenty of success. Meier has watched equipment develop, studies become programs and more options in medications become available. Whole-body cooling prevents neurological damage and babies are saved at 23 weeks gestation, she said.

“It’s great to see those things,” she said.

Families in the past had little involvement with their struggling infant, she said, but that too has changed.

“It’s much more family-centered care than in the past,” Meier said. “Now parents read to their babies, touch them, hold them. Studies show they do much better with parental involvement.”

Patrick Hennessy, 20, missed his first reunion with the NICU this year. He had fun through the years, he said, playing games, chasing children and getting attention from staff members who remembered the 1-pound baby as one of the smallest they could recall.

“I loved playing the games and getting the food, especially,” he said.

Patrick has heard stories through the years from family members who refer to him as their miracle child, he said. He’s seen the preemie photographs and said he is fortunate to have a loving family, no matter how he came into the world.

“I don’t feel like I’m anything really special,” he said. “Ever since I was young, I’ve downplayed my family considering me the miracle.”

Patrick said he knows he is lucky to have survived a rocky start, but says the rest of his life in his hands. He is a college student engaged in sports, music and theater and wants to inspire others through television and film.

“I just feel like I was born and God sent me down here to do the things that I want to do with my life,” he said. “ I was born the way I was born. After that, it’s my turn to write my own story.”