Once fragile newborns, graduates of neonatal intensive care unit will reunite with those who saved their lives

UCLA Health article

Daniel Quezada learning to eat in the NICU
Daniel Quezada came into this world more than three months early. 

Born at 25 weeks, he weighed only two pounds and was so small he could fit into his father's palm. Daniel was transferred from the hospital where he was born to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital. There, the micro-preemie was placed in a special incubator, hooked up to a myriad of tubes and monitors and cared for by a team of experts who specialize in treating medically fragile newborns. The goal was to keep Daniel alive so his body could continue to develop as if he were still in his mother's womb.

He was so small and weak, his parents were not sure that their third child would survive. The family prayed a lot and left his fate in God's hands.

Then a few months later, Daniel started thriving and the doctors and nurses began giving the family more and more positive updates. Fifteen long weeks after his birth, Daniel finally went home to Palmdale. 

"The NICU saved his life," said his father Manuel Quezada. "They are the best."

Today, Daniel, nicknamed "the Boss," is a smart, feisty 3-year-old who excels in his pre-kindergarten program. 

On Sunday, Oct. 7, Daniel, joined by his older sister, brother and parents, will reunite with his NICU doctors and nurses at the 27th UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital - NICU reunion. The event was started in 1978 and is now held every other year.

"They knew him when he was a tiny little baby with tubes coming out everywhere. It's fun to see the nurses again so they can see him running around like any other kid," said Manuel whose family also attended the reunion two years ago.

Approximately 400 patients and their families will attend the reunion of NICU "graduates" who were cared for either at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital in Westwood or UCLA Health - Santa Monica Medical Center. The former patients now range in age from 3 months to 35 years old.

Typically, patients come to the NICU due to extreme prematurity, as young as 24 weeks gestation (full gestation is 40 weeks) and some weighing not much more than a pound. Other patients are born full-term but with life threatening illnesses such as heart, kidney, neurological or pulmonary problems that require emergency surgical and/or medical interventions.

The NICU nurses organize the grand party which includes hundreds of balloons, colorful hand painted signs of welcome, pictures of babies, and activities to engage the children. 

"The reunion creates a special moment to highlight the sacredness of what occurred in the lives of these children at the moment of their births. Both the babies and their parents experienced an almost unspeakable trauma of being separated at the very beginning of the babies' lives and enduring much suffering," said Shohreh Samimi, NICU unit director at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital. "Now, months and years later, they come together with the staff that gave them a second chance at life. This is a celebration of the love, devotion and joy that only babies can evoke."

For Jenna and Jeff Weaker of Sun Valley, they are very excited to bring their 2 ½ year-old-son to see the nurses with whom they have stayed in touch. Luke, who was born at 32 weeks and battled serious lung problems, stayed in the NICU about 8 weeks.

"The attention the NICU team gave our son was beyond explanation," recalled Jenna. "They made us feel safe and reassured us that they would not give up on Luke."

Simi Valley mom Stacey Kinsey who had a girl, now age 2, and then twins, age 9 weeks, who all stayed in the NICU said she and her husband can't wait to attend the reunion and show off how great their kids are doing thanks to the care of the NICU team.

Sara Van der Linden in the NICU at UCLA
And not all guests are recent grads. Sara Van der Linden, 34, of Santa Paula, who was in the NICU for 59 days starting in December 1977, has attended more than 20 reunions. She enjoys talking with the nurses and families and offering hope and courage that NICU graduates can grow up and become productive members of society.

The UCLA NICU offers the most advanced interventions available to care for critically ill babies. Medical and surgical specialists are available 24 hours a day to address every possible physiological need. UCLA's experts are also involved in neonatal research such as the early management of hypoxia (oxygen depletion) in newborns; innovative cardiac surgery within moments of birth; and neurological non-invasive monitoring that can detect brain malfunctioning. 

The NICU also offers developmental interventions that enhance growth and promote maternal bonding; extensive resources to support breastfeeding; parent support groups; and education and support in the transition from hospital to home.   

"Our babies and families are loved always, and if a critical child is going to have a chance at survival, UCLA is the place to be," added Joyce Keeler, a NICU nurse at UCLA for more than 35 years.

Click here for more information on the NICU at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital and click here for more information on the NICU located at UCLA Health - Santa Monica Medical Center.

Media Contact:
Amy Albin
(310) 794-8672
[email protected]

Related Content


Media Contact

Amy Albin
(310) 794-8672
[email protected]