OCTOBER 6, 1997
Peter and Kirsten Garcia with one-year old Hunter.
By Deborah Bender
One year old Hunter Garcia of Woodinville returned to Evergreen Hospital for the second annual "Preemie Reunion" on Sept. 13 with 36 other graduates of the hospital's special care nursery. More than 225 people gathered in the hospital's courtyard, including nurses, parents, siblings, and the returning preemies. Kids were entertained by a magician, face painting, and games, while parents and nurses got the opportunity to reconnect.
Hunter's mother, Kirstin Garcia raved about the reunion. "It was wonderful, great to see the nurses. We saw two of the babies who were in the hospital with us...and they were just so happy, and healthy and big and wonderful. It was really heartwarming." She said.
Like many who attended the reunion, the Garcia family had an extended stay at Evergreen Hospital. With complications arising from Toxemia, Kirstin Garcia moved into the hospital 3 weeks prior to his birth. Despite efforts to prolong the pregnancy, Hunter made his way into the world 8 weeks prematurely, weighing only 2 lbs.-13 ozs.--less than your average paper weight.
Too small to go home, Hunter spent the first three weeks of his life in Evergreen Hospital's special care nursery. His parents, too, spent those first three weeks at Evergreen, through the hospital's free "room in" program.
During that time, Kirstin Garcia formed a special bond with Hunter's pediatric care nurses. Garcia, who was having trouble getting Hunter to breastfeed, turned to the nurses for support.
"The nurses were an inspiration," said Garcia. "I was about ready to give up and they just helped me out in every way that they could."
Ironically, one of the nurses who cared for Hunter turned out to be the mother of a childhood friend of Garcia's. "We still keep in touch," said Garcia. "We invited her to Hunter's first birthday party."
As one might expect, the nurses working in the pediatric care ward also form strong bonds with the preemies and their families. In fact, this attachment, was the basis for the reunion program. Gail Neubert of Evergreen Hospital explained. "This program basically started because of the nurses. They would spend so much time with the preemies and get really close to them and to the families. A lot of the nurses wanted to see what had happened to these kids, how they'd grown and changed."
One such nurse, Cyndy Miles, who helped to coordinate the reunion program this year, was overjoyed to see the returning children.
"It was especially good to see the babies that had a difficult hospital course, to see them growing and doing well...and also the babies that were here long term, that we tend to get very attached to." Said Miles.
According to Miles, most preemies stay in the nursery for only a few weeks before they attain the birth weight necessary for them to go home. However one child, she recalled, was 6 months old before he finally left the hospital.
For healthy babies, Evergreen Hospital no longer has the traditional nursery where parents stand at the window, pointing and admiring their children. Instead, most babies "room in" with their parents. The special care nursery is available for premature babies who are 30 weeks or older. With 3 nurses on shift, and others on-call, the facility can hold anywhere from two to fifteen babies at a given time.
In the last 2 years, the number of preemies passing through the special care nursery has been on the upswing. According to Evergreen's records, the hospital cared for 290 babies in 1996, and as of September 1997, 268 infants have already spent time in special care.
A year after his "graduation" from the special care nursery, Hunter Garcia has reached the normal height and weight for his age. His mother thanks Evergreen's nurses for their support, but credits Hunter's own inner strength for the progress he has made.
"Hunter is a fighter and a half...I really believe that kids who are born premature have to be fighters...they learn it at birth, and they're fighters all the way through. Hunter has shown us that over, and over again." She said.