A reunion of the tiniest fighters | Health Beat


Bass fishing, shaved ice, bounce houses, magicians and chalk drawings would make any afternoon unforgettable.

But add in children, siblings, parents and health care team members who all share a truly special connection, and you’ve got just the right ingredients for a celebration to remember.

The memory-making was on full display Saturday afternoon, when families from across Michigan reunited with the doctors, nurses and other NICU team members who once provided care to their children at Gerber Foundation Neonatal Center at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

“Today is a day where families can come back to show off their graduates to friends from the hospital,” said Amy Nyberg, March of Dimes NICU family support program coordinator at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “It’s wonderful to see past patients reconnecting with fellow families and saying thank you to the care team that once was at their bedside.”

The children at Saturday’s gathering had a vast array of exciting activities to enjoy.

They wore animal-themed headbands and got temporary tattoos. They had their faces painted. They cuddled with dogs from West Michigan Therapy Dogs. They took goofy pictures in a photo booth. They fished in a pond.

It was a luau-themed event, too, which inspired many to wear a lei or colorful Hawaiian gear.

Nyberg said she loved seeing the joy on the many faces at the event.

“It’s great to see how the children have grown into happy and healthy adults,” she said.

Brittany Roberts, a NICU nurse at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, worked the welcome desk as she greeted families.

“It’s my first time working the event this year, and it’s pretty neat,” Roberts said. “I love seeing all the grads that I have taken care of. And the turnout is abundant.”

Holly and Nate Kroeze attended with their three children. Their daughter, Scottie, 2, spent two months in the NICU after she was born.

“It’s a great space to see nurses and providers,” Holly said. “We have run into so many people we know.”

It was the first NICU reunion for Daphne Greve, 6, who attended with her mother. They got to interact with Charlie, a therapy dog.

Caleb Bell, 1, who had spent two months in the NICU, attended with his brother, Elijah, and their mother, Keturah. They all enjoyed getting to know Coco, a Yorkshire terrier.

And while the bounce house, therapy dogs and fishing were a big hit for all, one of the more simple activities drew plenty of smiles: sidewalk chalk.

Ellie Robinson, 2, played with bubbles as she chalked on the sidewalk. Ellie’s big sister had spent more than 10 months in the NICU.

Nearby, Aaliyah France, 1, played with the chalk. Aaliyah spent 51 days in the NICU at birth. Her mother, Breonna France, said Saturday’s event was simply awesome.

“We saw one of her NICU nurses and some of the Child Life team today,” Breonna said. “And it was great to reconnect.”

The event also had an ice cream truck on hand, allowing guests to enjoy cupfuls of flavored ice shavings.

Sienna Baas, 14, and her mom, Kelly Baas, nibbled on the shaved ice as they watched a magician perform tricks.

It was a big day for Sienna. She didn’t just celebrate her graduation from the NICU—she also planned to attend her first homecoming dance later in the evening.

The two met with Benedict “Ben” Doctor, MD, the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital neonatologist who treated Sienna at the NICU nearly 14 years ago. They exchanged hugs and well wishes.

Dr. Doctor also met with Vicky Richardson, 12, who’d spent six months and eight days in the NICU.

Vicky’s mom, Tomarra, felt grateful for the opportunity to connect with the care team outside the children’s hospital.

“It’s really nice for the doctors to be able to see her now,” Tomarra said. “We talked to the nurses, and they love seeing the patients as adult children. And to see how well she’s doing now.”

Down the path a stretch, families spent time fishing for bass in a pond.

Ralph Nyberg, fishing manager and a volunteer, brought half a dozen fishing poles for the kids to use. He helped several reel in their catches.

Teagan Boeve, 6, had several near catches—and he planned to keep at it until he could reel one in himself.

“Today is just so much fun,” Amy Nyberg said. “These families have so much to celebrate and we are so happy to be here to spend time with them in this special space where everyone has something in common.”

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