CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - About 400 babies spend the first days or first few months of their lives under 24 hour care. Saturday, those now healthy babies got to thank the staff at Saint Luke Hospital's Newborn Intensive Care Unit.
Five year old twins Anthony and Gavin Russ couldn't be happier or healthier. That's despite a shaky entrance to the world.
"My pregnancy didn't go as expected so they were born at 31 weeks," said mother of NICU graduates Kristy Russ.
So the Russ twins went to Saint Luke's NICU. It's a quiet floor where infants fight to get stronger and bigger. A battle they share with dedicated staff.
"Sometimes it might be just a short stay, maybe just a few hours. Sometimes it can be up to five or six months," said Saint Luke's Family Support Liaison Karla Pisarik.
However long, it can be stressful. Some conversations take them back to the hard times.
"Definitely some stressful days, Gavin had blood transfusions when he was in there. That was hard and he had a blood disorder of some kind," said Russ.
"It is a complete roller coaster in the NICU. One day things are going great just as quickly as things can change," said Pisarik.
Through the struggles came the good for these families and staff. They took small steps like gaining weight to use a bigger diaper size; until the final step, graduating out of the NICU.
"We kind of felt like it was our second home for a long time. The nurses still know us. It's great to see everyone again," said Russ.
In the womb, as infants, and now school age, family and NICU staff share a special bond, reconnected each year at the annual reunion.
Former NICU babies took home drawings of themselves. Along with snacks and games, the families also spent time with therapy dogs.