This past weekend, hundreds of former patients of the McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) gathered to reconnect and celebrate. The annual McMaster NICU Graduates Picnic invited children and their families to Confederation Park for an afternoon of fun with the staff that cared for them and the fellow patients they bonded with.
“It’s a way to celebrate what these families have been through,” says NICU nurse and one of the picnic’s organizers, Andrea Fulton.
Many NICU families form an intense bond with staff and fellow parents because they understand what they’re going through.
“Being in the NICU is often the most difficult experience they’ve ever been through,” Fulton says. “They spend so much of their time and energy there so they form really close relationships.”
For the VanWoudenberg family, the picnic was both a reunion and a chance to say thank you. Jodi and her husband Nathan welcomed triplets in November, born at 25 weeks. All three babies—Malachi, Taylor and Liam—were born under 2lbs and have chronic lung disease.
“It’s really inspiring to see them go from fragile, little babies to happy, smiling kids.”
“When we first got in here it was so hard and we didn’t know if the babies were going to make it and all of these strangers were everywhere,” Jodi recalls. “Over time, you get to know your nurses and other staff, start trusting them and feel comfortable leaving your baby with them.”
Taylor and Liam were discharged from the NICU in the spring, but Malachi is still there. His chronic lung disease is severe. Soon it will be time for him to move from the NICU to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Jodi knows he’ll be in good hands, but she’s still sad to leave the team that has cared for her babies for so many months.
“We’re so thankful for the relationships we could build,” she says. “We’re going to miss them so much.”
That’s why she was grateful to have the chance to spend time with staff and fellow parents at the picnic. Though Malachi wasn’t able to join, the VanWoudenberg family enjoyed a day of fun including face painting, games, farm animals and a puppet show.
Nearly 1000 people came to celebrate how far the NICU graduates have come since their time at MCH.
“It makes us really happy to be able to put on this event for families,” Fulton says. “Every year, we look forward to seeing our NICU grads and hearing about the milestones they’ve reached. It’s really inspiring to see them go from fragile, little babies to happy, smiling kids. We’re all really glad to be part of that journey.”