UAMS NICU Reunion
An event connecting generations of families and the medical staff who helped them through the early, most fragile stage of life.
By Dwain Hebda, Photography Courtesy of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Amy Garrett, staff educator for clinical programs for the women and infant service line, has been a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse at UAMS for nine years, and like any of the special breed of caregivers that tend to the tiniest and most fragile of infants, her work is deeply personal.
So when UAMS launched an NICU reunion event in 2012, it was a chance to see the babies that she had come to consider uniquely “hers.”
“We have primary nursing here at UAMS; if you’re a primary nurse you take care of that patient every time you’re on shift,” Garrett said. “I have some of my primary babies that I really look forward to seeing every year. It’s fun watching them grow; you remember when they were a pound and a half, two pounds and now they’re these thriving 5- and 6-year-olds running around and having a blast. It just means a lot.”
“I have families that make it a point to say, ‘I’m coming to see you.’ That really touches my heart. It’s something that I look forward to on a personal level because you do form bonds with these families when taking care of their babies for sometimes months, absolutely.”
Garrett was so sold on the idea that she’s been on the planning committee for every one of the NICU reunions, and is in her second straight year co-chairing the event. She said the get-together, which some years hosts upward of 400 people, serves as an important touchstone for patient families.
“We have families that come every year; they come from all areas of the state and sometimes even as far away as Texas and Oklahoma. It means that much to them,” she said. “We have a good mixture of people. We’ve had preemies who are now 16 or 18 years old come to our reunion, which is awesome.
“We’ve even had families whose babies are in the NICU currently that come down and check it out and see what it’s all about, and they get really fired up about coming after their baby is discharged and goes home. They’re excited about coming back the next year.”
The event will follow a superhero theme, provide plenty of mingle time with other families, physicians and NICU staff, and impart information on a range of health topics.
“It’s not just a party that we’re celebrating, although we do that,” Garrett said. “We also provide educational opportunities for these families, not just the in-patient ones that are currently here, but ones that are coming back. We provide continuing education on safe sleep, car seat safety, breastfeeding support and shaken baby syndrome. All those things that are still pertinent to these families.”