Incredible Interest Generated for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Reunion

September 07, 2001

More than 2,000 former patients and their families - all of whom have relied on Children's Hospital at Strong's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit - will gather at a reunion picnic from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, at Seneca Park Zoo.

Zoo grounds will be open only to former Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) patients - affectionately known as "NICU graduates" - and their families. Food and drinks, ice cream, and door prizes will be provided. Of course, there will be plenty of time for families to stroll through the zoo, catch up with doctors and nurses, and meet other families helped by the region's only referral intensive care unit designed solely for newborns.

"One out of every 20 babies born in Rochester and the surrounding 12-county region needs the specialized services and high-tech equipment available only in our NICU," says Timothy Stevens, M.D., a neonatologist at Children's Hospital at Strong. "Our region has about 22,000 live births each year, and about 1,100 of those babies come through our unit."

"With this reunion, we're celebrating the resiliency and vitality of NICU graduates who've overcome significant health problems, as well as the courage and strength of their parents," Stevens says. "But we'll also remember those children who showed the same courage and determination, but didn't survive. Some of them have a sibling in attendance at the reunion. They're all special to us."

In addition to helping babies in crisis, NICU physicians played a big role in advancing medical treatment for infants. In the 1980s, doctors from Children's Hospital were instrumental in the development of surfactant, a synthetic drug designed for immature lungs that failed to produce their own surfactant, a substance needed for proper lung function. Surfactant has saved the lives of countless premature infants born with an often deadly breathing problem called respiratory distress syndrome.

William Maniscalco, M.D., is one of those physicians. In April, he became Chief of the Division of Neonatology, overseeing the 52-bed NICU - including a staff of more than 150 - and helps manage thriving research and teaching programs.

"The NICU is a great place to work because we can make such a huge difference for children and their families, and I'm thrilled that this picnic will involve many of our staff nurses, who are really the glue that holds the NICU together," Maniscalco says. "We're looking forward to the reunion, and seeing many of the children and their parents, who, during the course of their treatment, became a part of our family."

Since 1991, more than 10,000 newborns have been treated and cared for in the NICU at Children's Hospital at Strong. When organizing the reunion, staff members knew they couldn't invite every child and family. Most of the families invited to this reunion had children who were admitted during the last two years. More reunions are planned, so additional families and NICU graduates can take part in the festivities.

Children's Hospital at Strong, 601 Elmwood Ave., Rochester, is this region's only children's hospital. It offers a 52-bed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, a 12-bed Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, a state-of-the-art emergency department, and a highly skilled staff, which is specially trained to care for children and their families.

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