Summerlin Hospital to reunite NICU babies’ families with caregivers

Summerlin Hospital plans to reunite families Sept. 20 that had babies in its neonatal intensive care unit a decade ago. The reunion with caregivers is planned from 10 a.m. to noon in the hospital’s Healing Garden, 657 N. Town Center Drive.

Seven years ago, Donna Gonzalez and her husband, Jimmie, were looking forward to starting a family. She said that at 33, she was anxious to get pregnant “before time ran out.” They tried for a year before she was tested and learned that she had two blocked tubes. The couple opted for in vitro fertilization, where eggs are implanted in the uterus. Six weeks later came the good news: They were having triplets.

“They put three in and all three took; what are the chances of that?” she said.

The pregnancy proceeded without any problems or odd cravings, and Gonzalez gained 70 pounds, 25 in the last two weeks of pregnancy.

“I’d wake up, look in the mirror and go, ‘Who are you?’ ” she said.

The big day came, and the babies — Vincent, Jake and Nicolas — were born at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center at an estimated 32 weeks and three days gestation. The smallest was 3 pounds and 13 ounces. They were immediately placed in the NICU.

Being a surgical technician in the labor and delivery unit at Summerlin Hospital, Gonzalez said she was comfortable knowing the babies were in good hands.

“At 32 weeks (gestation), I really didn’t have any fears because, No. 1, I knew we had a great NICU, and No. 2, it wasn’t that premature,” she said. “… Now, if they were 24 weeks, I’d have a fear.”

The babies were each in the special unit for three weeks, four weeks and five weeks. They will turn 8 in November.

Gonzalez praised Drs. Mehrdad Asadifar and Mercedes Cruz with giving their case their utmost attention.

“Our NICU, I can’t say enough good things about them,” she said.

Gonzalez said she meets interesting people at the NICU reunions and has kept in contact with two of them, whose children now attend the same school as her boys — Staton Elementary, 1700 Sageberry Drive.

Linda LaPointe has been the NICU manager at Summerlin Hospital since 2005. She said the earliest gestation baby the unit has seen was 20 weeks, and the infant weighed less than a pound. Such babies are referred to as “micro preemies.”

Gretchen Papez, director of public relations and media relations for The Valley Health System, said, “It takes a very special person to be a NICU nurse. … They are dealing with the most fragile patients, the most vulnerable patients that we have. They come from the womb into a big, scary world, and they have a lot of extra-gentle hands working to help them grow so they can go home and be with their families.”

NICU nurses are assigned to look after three to four Level II babies at a time. A nurse looking after more acute patients, Level III, will oversee just one or two patients.

Level II care is for stable or moderately ill newborns born at or beyond 32 weeks gestation with problems that are expected to resolve rapidly. Level III care requires continuously available personnel (neonatologists, neonatal nurses, respiratory therapists) and equipment to provide life support for as long as needed.

LaPointe said constant supervision from nurses is vital.

“Because the nurse’s observational skills are able to do what the monitors are not able to do,” she said. “So, sometimes, the more subtle signs of, say, for instance, an infection, the nurse would be able to pick up on just from knowing the baby. The heart rate, blood pressure, all that.”

LaPointe said that 15 years ago, a baby born at 20 to 25 weeks gestation would have been considered nonviable. With today’s technology, they’re considered viable at 21 weeks. She said gestation is generally determined by the mother’s last menstrual period, which is not an exact indicator. The way a baby acts or reacts to stimuli when born helps better assess how far along in development he is.

LaPointe plans to be at the reunion, which has seen attendance of 500 families.

“For me, it’s a reminder of why we do what we do,” she said. “Sometimes, we see things that are very sad, when families lose their babies for whatever reason. And even though that doesn’t happen very often, it’s hard for me, hard for the staff. Then, when we go to the reunion, it’s a celebration of all the babies who did go home.”

Papez said holding the reunions on campus allows staff members to pop in and see how the children have grown.

All former NICU patients and their families, including siblings, are invited to attend. The event is set to feature refreshments and a variety of special activities.

To register, call 702-388-4888.

Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at or 702-387-2949.

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