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North Oaks Treats NICU Graduates to Holiday Fun

  • Category: In The News
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Nanette Russell White

Five-year-old Isabella Ambrose attends the North Oaks Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) reunion every year. But, no offense to Santa, her favorite part is the face painting.

Isabella joined about 257 former NICU patients or “graduates” and their family members who were honored during the annual free event at the E. Brent Dufreche Conference Center Saturday, Dec. 2.

Other guests were excited to visit with Santa, and will receive a keepsake photo. They were also treated to holiday music and videos, face painting, games, craft-making and refreshments provided by Chick-fil-A.

“Isabella bounded out of bed this morning and said, ‘I’m ready to go,’” shares her mother, Tara. “She picked out her outfit days ago. She loves coming here and knows her way around.”

Because of respiratory issues, Isabella spent about a week in the NICU after her birth. Others, like 7-month-old Allie Hoffman of Denham Springs was born at 28 weeks, weighing just 2 pounds, 14 ounces.

Her mother, Sunny, went into premature labor two weeks after a life-threatening and unprecedented surgery. Allie was born en route to a hospital in Covington, but was brought to North Oaks because of rapid labor -- an hour from her first contraction to delivery.

“I wasn’t familiar with North Oaks, but I can’t say enough about the staff here, especially (neonatologist) Dr. Vo. Everyone really listened to me and they were so personable,” Mrs. Hoffman explains.

Sometimes, a baby may be born prematurely or with a health condition that requires admission to the NICU, and the baby’s stay may range from a few days to as long as six months.

With extended lengths of stay, it is natural for a strong bond to form between medical personnel and the families, sometimes becoming close friends, according to Kirsten Riney, vice president of patient services.

“We form an attachment to these babies who come to us at their most vulnerable. Their families go through such trying times,” she explains. “It’s common that we develop a strong bond as we all pull together to keep them healthy.”

Since the NICU was opened in 1991, thousands of children have spent time in the unit. Last year, 208 babies were admitted, with 136 admitted in the first six months of 2017, according to Riney.

The Pritchard family has had three babies admitted to the NICU: Avery, 12; Rylee, 10; and Korey 3.

“We come every year,’ notes their mother, Terri. “I have a niece who is pregnant and I told her that if it comes to pass and she needs it, this NICU is state of the art and she will get good care here."

For more information about North Oaks’ NICU or any of the health system’s services for women and children, please call the North Oaks Business Development Department at (985) 230-6647.