ZIONSVILLE, Ind. - Zionsville's Lions Park saw a reunion unlike any other this weekend as families reconnected with staff from St.Vincent Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.
Among those families were Lyndsey, Jeff and Cole Abshire. At 6 months old, Cole is now a healthy, curious baby. And, like most babies, all of his achievements, no matter how small, are documented thoroughly by mom and dad.
"When we put him down and he scoots off his mat right away, I start making phone calls and put it on Facebook," said Lyndsey. "It's awesome."
Cole's parents expected him to be healthy from the start. He was born full-term through a scheduled C-section. However, they quickly learned something was wrong.
"Cole was born with a rare condition," Lyndsey said. "It's congenital pneumonia, which doesn't make sense … but some babies are just born really sick. He was so sick that no matter how much oxygen that put in his lungs, how much support they gave him, he just wasn't responding."
Doctors hooked Cole up to a machine that functions as an artificial lung. After four-and-a-half days with the help of the ventilator, Cole could start breathing a little on his own.
He spent another month in the NICUs at both St.Vincent and Peyton Manning Children's Hospitals.
"It was a nightmare," said Jeff. "Thirty one days, many days not knowing if we'd bring our son home or not."
Cole is one of the roughly 800 patients from across the state of Indiana who will be admitted into St.Vincent's NICU this year.
"Nobody goes through pregnancy thinking about their baby ending up in the NICU," said Dr. Robert Jansen. "Our job is to help support families in that process as best we can."
This weekend, doctors like Jansen reconnected with NICU survivors at a reunion at Zionsville's Lions Park.
It's a yearly event to reconnect and celebrate how far the tiny patients have come.
"It's really great to see kids come back year after year and watch them as they're growing up," Jansen said.
This is the 16th year for the event, and Jansen's 35th in medicine – a period in which he says there have been "dramatic" advances in the NICU.
For many of the most fragile patients, those advances meant leaving the hospital for a normal, healthy life.
"You would never know he was a sick baby," the Abshires said. "You would never know. It's unbelievable. What they do … it's nothing short of a miracle."