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NICU Grads: Celebrating Our Littlest Patients Who Aren’t So Little Anymore

Published on Oct. 05, 2021

Valley Children’s provides specialized care for more than 1,400 fragile babies who are facing serious challenges due to extreme prematurity, congenital defects, injury and chronic illness. Since 1979, Valley Children’s has hosted an annual picnic for all former NICU patients and their families to catch up with nurses, doctors, staff and volunteers. With an average of 200 NICU graduates and more than 700 guests who would attend, we would celebrate our tiniest patients who are NICU graduates.

In 2020, the pandemic made coming together to celebrate our babies impossible – NICU grads like David (who are not so little anymore). 

Approaching his 11th birthday, David was born prematurely on October 18 at 23 weeks gestation, weighing 1 pound 12 ounces. His mom went into emergency labor and had no choice but to deliver early in order to regain her own health. 

“This was heartbreaking for us because delivering David so early meant that he more than likely wasn’t going to make it,” said David’s dad, Robert. “But we had to make this tough decision in order to save my wife’s life.”

David was immediately transported to the only level IV NICU in the region at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera. 

“During that time, I was alone because his mom was still in the hospital, and I was prepared to say ‘goodbye’ to my son,” said Robert. “I had fallen asleep in the NICU when I woke up to [his Valley Children’s nurse]. She explained David’s health, and in that moment, she gave me hope when I was at my lowest point,” adds Robert. "She was like, ‘Don't worry, he's going to make it, we just have to fatten him up.’"

David in Valley Children's NICU and today

David in the NICU (top) and with dad Robert (bottom)

Throughout David’s 4-month hospital stay, he would undergo several surgeries, including a heart procedure for patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) litigation. This condition meant that a vein in David’s heart that would normally close at birth stayed open. As a result, oxygen-rich blood that should be circulating into his body was going back to his lungs.

“David had to have heart surgery but he came through with flying colors, and that was on Thanksgiving. A month later, on Christmas Day, he had to have eye surgery. It was a tough time, but I knew when I walked in the hospital or the Ronald McDonald House, everything was going to be okay,” added Robert. 

Today, David is outgoing, healthy and enjoys video games and playing sports, especially basketball – he is a passionate Laker fan and loves Kobe Bryant. 

“The only thing he has is a scar from his heart surgery. That's it. You would never know that he was ever in the hospital,” said Robert. “We would go to the NICU picnic to see friendly and familiar faces, and even though we won’t be there, I want them to know that if it wasn’t for them, my son would not be here. I will continue to be grateful for that every day.” 


About Valley Children's NICUs

Valley Children’s has four NICUs in the Central Valley, including at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera (the only level IV NICU in the entire region), Adventist Health in Hanford, Mercy Medical Center in Merced and Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno. U.S. News & World Report also ranks Valley Children’s as one of the best children’s hospitals in the country in seven pediatric specialties, including Neonatology. Valley Children’s is also a Magnet®-recognized organization demonstrating excellence in nursing practice and quality patient care. Our expert transport team provides nearly 800 neonatal transports a year, delivering the most experienced, life-saving care in the region.