Feb. 12 was Family Day for British Columbians, but it has a whole new meaning in Charlotte Wain’s household.
Earlier this year, Wain gave birth to twins, Felix and Harriet Green. However, it wasn’t the birth the new mother was expecting. The twins were born at 27 weeks and two days – roughly 13 weeks premature.
But after an extended stay at Victoria General Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and highly specialized medical care from doctors and nurses, Felix and Harriet are thriving.
Earlier this month, the family returned for the 34th annual reunion party for “graduates” of the unit, hosted in the back garden of Jeneece Place.
More than 100 families enjoyed food and refreshments, face-painting and socialized with other families, to celebrate those who have fought so hard to be alive and those who helped them along the way.
“It’s such a valued opportunity for us to see the babies and their families. There’s a lot of networking that goes on in the NICU with regards to being away from your home community and support system. Moms and dads make a lot of friends, and today’s all about celebrating them and that they made it through the NICU,” said Gillian Kozinka, a longtime neonatal nurse and current manager of neonatal and perinatal services.
“It’s helping them through some really tough times … It’s a really valuable thing for the NICU nurses and the team to actually keep on going and doing this hard job because it’s hard on the heart sometimes.”
But it hasn’t always been a time of celebration for many families, including Wain’s.
After complications with her pregnancy, Harriet was born first at two pounds, two ounces, followed by brother Felix at one pound, 15 ounces. The young family spent the next 10 weeks in the NICU, where the twins slowly but surely began to grow.
Some things that new parents take for granted were major milestones for the babies, such as when they were taken off a c-pack machine that was helping them breathe, when they started to gain weight, and were taken off tubes to begin feeding orally.
In April, the twins were able to go home.
Now six months old, Felix has grown to 10.6 pounds, and Harriet is 10.4 pounds.
“From day one, the level of care that we got was exceptional,” Wain said during the reunion, adding anytime they drop by the hospital for checkups, she’ll wheel the babies in for a visit.
“The nurses were phenomenal and the doctors didn’t overwhelm us with too much information and gave us what we needed to know on that day.”
Felix and Harriet are not alone. Between 2,500 and 3,500 babies are born in Victoria every year and nearly 600 of those will require care from the NICU unit.
Saanich’s Heather Carlos and her husband Kurt Wideski know the benefits of the NICU all too well.
Their daughter Lilah, now almost two years old, was born at 24 weeks and one day – 16 weeks premature. Lilah stayed in the NICU for another four months before she was released.
“It’s one of the few ways we get to express our gratitude over and over. It’s the least we can do every year,” said Carlos, who attended the reunion last year as well.
“It means so much to see everybody. You don’t want to forget something like that. As traumatic as the experience was, it was still a big part of her life … Being able to come back and be reminded of how amazing the NICU is, is an amazing thing and to honour all the kids who fought so hard to make it.”