(Joplin, MO) – There were plenty of hugs and more than a few tears during Freeman’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) reunion on Sunday, September 10, where 35 NICU families reconnected with the Freeman Health System physicians and nurses who cared for their children during a most traumatic and stressful time of their lives.
Clemete Almaraz blinked away tears when he spoke about his family’s extended stay at the Freeman NICU when his son was born at just 25 weeks.
“He was so small and tiny, but he was a warrior in the NICU. I like to call him my superhero,” Almaraz said. “Without Freeman, he would not be here today.”
Every day inside the NICU, Freeman nurses and physicians provide nonstop care for their patients, from the moment a newborn takes his or her first breath to when a family is finally able to go home. And while a NICU stay can be a very vulnerable time for families, Sunday’s reunion was the complete opposite — a happy, carnival-like atmosphere filled with music and the giggles and shrieks of children at play.
“The NICU reunion is such an exciting and emotional experience for our staff to have the opportunity to reconnect with the patients they spent many shifts with,” said Kalseji Reeves, Director of Maternal-Neonatal Services at Freeman. “Sometimes a family may be with us a few days and sometimes it’s several months. Regardless of the time they spend in the NICU, a special bond is created with the NICU staff and their patients and families. It is so rewarding to see these children thriving in life and reaching milestone after milestone.”
Hosted by the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, in which Freeman Health System is the only CMN Hospital within a 70-mile radius — fun activities ranged from a giant bounce house and rubber duck pond to facepainting and the opportunity to crawl inside a Joplin Police Department vehicle.
“Children’s Miracle Network is honored to be able to host the NICU reunion for our tiniest patients and get to see how much they have grown over the years,” said Laura Gullett, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Program Coordinator. “It’s wonderful to see the kids get to interact with the nursing staff that took such great care of them during the first days of their lives.”
Katie Butler has seen the NICU from both perspectives. Before she became a Freeman NICU nurse, she was a concerned mother with a son in the unit. On Sunday, mother and son posed together for pictures.
“He’s now a crazy kindergartener — he’s onery, he has skinned knees, he’s a crazy boy,” Butler said. “I wouldn’t have him if I didn’t have Freeman NICU.”
Freeman NICU is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2023, and this 24-bed unit provides specialized care using state-of-the-art technology and years of experience treating premature and critically ill specialists. More than 2,600 babies are born at Freeman West each year.
Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, which helps furnish and maintain Freeman’s NICU, provides life-saving assistance to children from birth to 21 years of age in a 14-county area in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. All money raised stays local, helping children with medical needs and their families.
About Freeman Health System
Locally owned, not-for-profit and nationally recognized, Freeman Health System includes Freeman Hospital West, Freeman Hospital East, Freeman Neosho Hospital and Ozark Center — the area’s largest provider of behavioral health services — as well as two urgent care clinics, dozens of physician clinics and a variety of specialty services. In 2020, Freeman earned dozens of individual awards for medical excellence and patient safety from CareChex®, a quality rating system that helps consumers evaluate healthcare providers. U.S. News & World Report named Freeman Health System the Best Hospital in Southwest Missouri for 2020. With more than 320 physicians on staff representing more than 80 specialties, Freeman provides cancer care, heart care, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopaedics, children’s services and women’s services. Additionally, Freeman is the only Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in a 70-mile radius. For more information, visit freemanhealth.com.
Kevin McClintock, Media Relations Coordinator
Freeman Health System