UTMB’s 10th Annual Preemie Reunion on Oct. 21 was the first time Wendy Lentino was able to take her baby, Liliana, out in public.
“Lily finally gets to experience things that most of us take for granted, like the sun shining and the wind blowing,” said Lentino.
Born just four months prior to the Galveston Campus event, Liliana was full-term, but was very sick, suffering from a severe heart defect and pulmonary hypertension. For weeks, Lentino and her husband went home from the NICU each night after visiting their daughter, not knowing what the future would hold.
“On the first drive home without her, we cried and made a promise to follow three rules: take it one day at a time, have no expectations and celebrate everything,” she said.
Lentino credits those three rules—in addition to the care provided and relationships built with the doctors and nursing staff—with helping her family through the hardest of times.
“We held our breath for a little while, but at 10 days, she opened her eyes. At 20 days, she was able to breathe without the ventilator—and then she took off running,” she said. “My husband and I had two other kids at home who needed us, and we were able to go home and sleep in our beds comforted by the fact that Lily was in the best possible hands.”
The Lentinos were one of dozens of families who attended the annual event, which reunites children who were born prematurely or very sick with the nurses and doctors who cared for them. The carnival-style event features music, games, craft booths, refreshments—and lots of hugs between the families and caregivers.
It’s NICU nurse Carrie Holloway’s favorite event of the year.
“Lily and the other children here are why we do what we do,” said Holloway, who was the first nurse to take care of Lily the evening she was born. “I always tell my families whose babies are in the hospital, ‘They’re our babies, too.’ All nurses love their babies, and to see the end result and how well they’ve grown makes it all worthwhile.”
UTMB delivers more than 6,000 babies each year. About 800 of these newborns require the most comprehensive infant intensive care available. NICU babies and their families spend days, weeks or months in the hospital—forming bonds with the nurses and physicians.
“It’s really nice to see many of these children come back—I took care of most of them,” said Dr. Rafael Fonseca, associate professor in the Division of Neonatology. “To see them doing so well and running around like regular kids makes our jobs worthwhile. I just saw a boy that I took care of who was born at 24 weeks—he’s in grade school now. It’s really cool.”
Lavonda Morgan, a nurse in the NICU and president of the Infant Special Care Unit Preemie Reunion committee, said the annual event usually draws between 50 and 70 children and their families, with some traveling from as far away as Lufkin and Corpus Christi to attend.
For Wendy Lentino, the event represents a way to say thank you to the people who helped her family during a difficult and trying time. She plans on attending the event every year as Lily continues to grow and thrive.
“I’m really passionate about all these people—they love her as much as we do,” she said. “Now, Lily’s finally home and just doing her thing and growing every day. She’s perfect.”