NICU 50th Anniversary: Reunion Reminds NICU Team What It's All About

For 10 "awful days," Paige and Ryan Stewart watched their son, Mason, fight for his life in the Benefis Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

"He had a rough start," Paige said.

The outstanding care from the Benefis NICU team saw Mason through, and he's a healthy 3-month-old now. Paige and Ryan, who is stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base, showed off Mason at the NICU's 50th Anniversary Reunion on Saturday.

The oldest NICU graduate at the gathering was born at 27 weeks in 1990. Dina Waldner of Fairhaven Hutterite Colony was flown to Salt Lake City for surfactant just days before the lung treatment became available here.

Dina said her sister was not excited about meeting the new preemie in the family.

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"Why did you pick her?” she asked her mom. “She is not cute.”

“I have come a long ways since then,” Dina said.

The NICU reunion is a reminder that the work and heartache that comes with the job is worth it in the end, retired NICU nurse Marlene Lund said.

Lund attended with her grandson, Cole, who arrived at 30 weeks after kicking a hole in his mom's uterine wall. He spent 35 days in the NICU and began at 2 pounds, 4 ounces. He's 10 now.

"I say thank you to the nurses who took care of him," Marlene said. "They did an amazing job. It was hard to be on the other side of the bed."

Robyn Brantner brought her daughter, Oaqlynn, to the reunion. She is just 18 months old and had a rocky beginning, arriving at less than 2 pounds and dropping below 1 pound as she struggled to eat (and breathe and digest). Oaqlynn spent 119 days in the NICU.

"The NICU nurses are angels," Robyn said. "They are the reason I have her. Anywhere else, she would not have lasted. They do their jobs with love and passion, and they're the reason she walks and talks. They're the reason all the kids are here, and everyone should see the miracles they have performed."

Stay tuned for more NICU stories throughout the summer as we celebrate the 50th anniversary.

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