|Children, dressed in Halloween costumes, laugh at a magician’s joke at the reunion. The event provided a variety of entertainment, including face painting, a balloon artist and pumpkin decorating. Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Crystal Owens|
Nine years ago, Round Hill resident Elizabeth Hottinger found herself in the middle of the worst possible scenario.
At only 27 weeks pregnant, the mother had given birth to twin boys.
Alex weighed 1 pound, 11 ounces; Ryan, 2 pounds, 3 ounces – the smallest babies ever to be born at Inova Loudoun Hospital in Lansdowne.
“I was terrified … the doctor said he didn't know if any of us were going to make it the next 48 hours,” Hottinger said.
Today, the boys are happy and healthy. Hottinger said she doesn't know how she would have made it through the two months her sons had to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit without the help of Inova's nurses and staff.
She attends Inova's NICU reunion every year to show her support and give thanks.
“I would have a million babies if I could come back to this place,” Hottinger said at the 8th annual reunion Sept. 29.
The union, started nine years ago – one reunion was canceled due to a bad flu season – by nurse Lori Caslin serves as a homecoming for the children and parents that are dependent on Inova Lansdowne's NICU and staff.
“I knew that a reunion was the best way for everyone to see all our happy, healthy babies,” Caslin said.
On Sept. 29, nearly 100 children came back to celebrate with the staff and enjoy some entertainment. More than 315 people attended the event, according to Renee Brohard, spokesperson for Inova Lansdowne.
Diane Yaquchi, a NICU nurse of 30 years, said developing medicine and technology has allowed for more babies to spend less time in the hospital.
Doctors, Yaquchi said, are now able to give expectant mothers medication to stop early labor and steroids to speed up the development of a baby's lungs – organs that continue to develop almost up to the day of a normal, full-term birth.
She dubbed the annual NICU reunions as a sign of hope for others.
“It's nice for the people to see that these babies do grow and they're healthy,” she said.
After three decades of working in NICUs, including nine years at Inova Lansdowne, Yaquchi said it's easy to get attached to the children nurses care for each day.
“It's indescribable. I love my job,” she said.
For mother Michele Harrison, the reunion is a way of forgetting the long days away from her daughter Fre'ele.
Fre'ele, now 2, was born June 8, 2011 – five weeks early.
“It's a nice event for the kids that was a hard experience for us,” Harrison said, noting how difficult it was to leave her baby in the care of strangers.
“... they took great care of her,” she added.
Others that attend the reunion each year said they're amazed at how many nurses still remember their days of taking care of their children.
Mother Elizabeth Barnett said seeing the nurses each year brings a sense of relief.
“I still haven't cut my umbilical cord from the nurses,” Barnett joked.
Her twin girls, Kathryn and Michaela, both 10, were born more than two months early. The girls spent less than a month in the Inova Lansdowne NICU.
“I had to leave it in the hands of God and here we are 10 years later,” she said.
|Alex Hottinger, left, and Ryan Hottinger, right, joke with Skip the Musician at the 8th annual Inova NICU reunion on Sept. 29. The boys were the smallest babies to be born at the hospital at 1 pound, 11 ounces and 2 pounds, 3 ounces, respectively. . Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Crystal Owens|
|Fre'ele Harrison, 2, waits in line for an animal balloon at the 8th annual Inova Loudoun NICU reunion. Fre'ele was born five weeks early and spent eight days in the NICU. Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Crystal Owens|
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