NICU event reunites babies and staff

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WAND) - After 40 years, one of the first patients for the Carle Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Ben Williams, connects with children who went through a similar situation.

Today at the First Christian Church in Champaign, dozens of families gathered to enjoy games, food, and Disney characters. Each family had one thing in common: they were all a part of the Carle NICU family. 

Director of Women and Children Services, Pam Unger says, "The reason it's so special is because we see these children at such a vulnerable age and time in their lives. And to watch them get better, send them home, then be able to see them come back and growing and healthy and leading productive lives, that's the best we can do." She says around 3,600 families were invited to the NICU Reunion.

One activity at the event was painting the NICU graduate's hand in paint and leaving a colorful hand print on a board with the child's name and birthday. The theme for the reunion was Disney, and on the staff shirts it said, 'It's kind of fun to do the impossible,' a Walt Disney quote. Unger says the quote is perfect because that is what the staff watches these kids do, the impossible. They defy all odds and come out strong and healthy.

Parents at the reunion say it is definitely hard to see their newborn baby in the NICU. Some say they felt helpless. The Stow family has a little girl named Sophia who was in the hospital fighting to live for four months. Today, she is a happy and healthy baby. They say, "She got sick, we had a couple close calls a few times and it was pretty scary, and there's really nothing we can do but sit back and watch it happen."

Williams attended the event to reconnect with the NICU unit after four decades. He says it was amazing to be back and see all of the kids who are strong and happy, but once went through what he did.

Williams says his NICU experience was a little different though since it had only been open two weeks before he was born. He says, "I was born in the NICU in Carle. It had been open for about two weeks when I was born. They were interviewing a neonatologist, and he intervened at the point of my birth."

Now Ben Williams is wanting kids that had a NICU experience to know anything is possible giving this advice, "There's always one of those you 'won't be as big and fast as everyone else,' but those are just opinions, they don't have to come true."

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