Weighing in at just 4 pounds, William Jones Gonzalez was among the tiniest of newborns in the Infant Special Care Unit at UTMB. He was born July 15, 1994 — a full two months ahead of schedule.

“What sticks out in my mind most about William during his long hospital stay was his smile,” his dad, Tino, said.“He had IVs and needles all over his little body and these metallic glasses protecting his eyes, but he was still smiling.”

That smile would come to define William as he grew up strong and tall. Now 16, he is ever the optimist, and the friendliest teenager you’ll ever meet, said his mom, Denise, who works for the medical branch’s school of medicine.

“There was never any doubt that William would thrive,” Tino said. “The level of care he received was tremendous. We just had to wait it out until it was time for him to come home.”

Infants receiving care in the ISCU are very small, often weighing only a few pounds. They need special nurturing to help them develop before they are able to go home, and the medical branch provides a high level of intensive care to premature infants.

UTMB's ISCU recently held its third annual “preemie party” — a graduate reunion of sorts for infants and families who once were part of the unit.

“We were anxious to see how the little ones had grown,” Dr. Sunil Jain, assistant professor of neonatology, said. “And, oh, how William has grown!”

He might have had a rough start, but William now is almost 6 feet tall.

Jain said this special event is close to his heart.

“When the babies are in the ISCU, all of the families and staff get so close,” he said. “It was nice to visit with all of them again and see how the children are thriving.”

Party guests from the university included Dr. Garland D. Anderson, executive vice president and provost; Dr. Joan Richardson, chairwoman of the department of pediatrics and director of the division of neonatology and the ISCU; Dr. Gary Hankins, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology; and Dr. George Saade, director of the division of maternal-fetal medicine.

“Our tiniest patients are our greatest miracles,” Richardson said. “It’s hard to express the joy we feel when a parent sends us a graduation announcement or a former patient sends us a photo of their new healthy baby.”

William is one of the many success stories. He is on his high school’s cross country and varsity tennis teams in Galveston, drum major of the band, a member of the National Honor Society and a straight-A student taking advanced courses for college credit.

“He knew he had a lot to do in his lifetime, so he got a head start,” Tino joked.

UTMB Health delivers more than 6,000 babies annually. About 600 of these babies are ill or premature at birth and require the most comprehensive infant intensive care available.

Led by Richardson, the neonatal intensive care unit, which includes the ISCU, has an expert team of nearly 150 health care professionals, with 21 intensive care beds and 21 intermediate care beds.