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Santa Greets NICU Graduates at North Oaks' Annual Reunion

  • Category: In The News
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  • Written By: Melanie Zaffuto

Amiracca Marshall was hospitalized at North Oaks Medical Center for 2 ½ months before her baby was born breech, and he spent another month in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). So returning Saturday to the NICU Annual Reunion was like a homecoming.Amiracca Marshall

Ms. Marshall and baby Tripp, who are pictured above with Santa, were among the 255 former NICU patients or “graduates” and their family members who were honored during the event at the E. Brent Dufreche Conference Center, within North Oaks Diagnostic Center in Hammond.

In fact, she spent so much time at North Oaks that she was married at the medical center, and even had her baby shower there.

“I had a great experience. The doctors were awesome. It was so special,” she shares.

Ms. Marshall had a 5 pound tumor in her stomach that caused her hospitalization. Doctors removed the tumor in November 2016, and little Tripp was born two months prematurely on Christmas Day. He weighed just 3 pounds, 9 ounces.

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 Lead Nurse Practitioner Scott Landry.

In betweenKristen Ethan greeting former patients, Landry caught up with 3-year-old Ethan Lee and his mother Olivia. Ethan was born with Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), a bacterium that infects the lining of the brain, causing meningitis. His was the first case of infant Hib in the medical center’s history, according to Mrs. Lee.

Ethan, who is pictured above with NICU Reunion volunteer Kristen Ahrend, spent 4½ weeks in the NICU and was given less than a 15 percent chance of survival. Today, he is deaf and has other serious medical conditions but is progressing well.Chelsey and Michael Yeargin of Ponchatoula attend the annual NICU reunion with their sons Cayden and Cameron. Mrs. Yeargin made the boys special shirts celebrating the event.

“When Ethan came in, he had a slim chance of survival. It was a very sad moment for his family and our team. We continued to fight and he continued to fight,” Landry shares. “To see him today is such a miracle and blessing.”

Since the NICU was opened in 1991, thousands of children have spent time in the unit. With extended stays, like Ethan’s, we all become family,” according to Kirsten Riney, vice president of patient services.

“These babies are so vulnerable and fragile. We fight so hard for them to leave here healthy that relationships last for many years,” Mrs. Riney notes.

Kellie Husser and her mother Shannon haven’t missed a reunion in 19 years, and they were the first to arrive at this year’s event. Kellie spent 2½ weeks in the NICU, and says she’ll keep attending the reunion until she turns 21.

“It puts a smile on my mother’s face,” she notes, adding that her mother teared up as they were pulling into the parking lot.

From left, Braydin and Caitlynn Mizell enjoy coloring activities during the event. Braydin spent five days in the NICU when he was born prematurely.Kellie and the other guests will receive a keepsake photo with Santa Claus. They were also treated to holiday music and videos, face painting, games, craft-making and refreshments provided by Chick-fil-A.

Twenty-six North Oaks Health System staff members volunteered their personal time to hold the event.

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.