Vivian Prestia of Carpentersville is turning 1 next week -- but her parents say it's only because dozens of "lifesavers" at St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates helped her survive a challenging first year.
Born three months early, Vivian weighed a mere 1.4 pounds. She stayed in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit for more than two months and spent more than a month in intermediate care.
During that time, Frank and Linda Prestia met two other sets of parents -- Tony and Miriam Flores of Elgin, and Amy Wilk and Tom Nelson of Elk Grove Village -- who were also worried sick over the health of their premature babies.
Miriam Flores gave birth to twin daughters, Bianca and Olivia, last September. Both girls faced serious complications for the first few weeks of their lives and Olivia died at 2 months.
Wilk and Nelson also had twin daughters, Olivia and Hannah, in January. Hannah was stillborn and her sister spent the next two months in the hospital due to numerous complications.
With some very hard times behind them, the three families decided to host a celebration-of-life appreciation dinner on Sunday, Oct. 6, at Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club in Hoffman Estates for all the hospital's NICU doctors and nurses, and their significant others.
"I felt that after we were released (from the hospital) I never had the full amount of time to say goodbye and offer our appreciation," said Linda Prestia. "We just all felt that we never got to give them the appreciation that they deserve."
NICU Director Korina Sanchez said it is common for families to send letters of appreciation or come back to the hospital to visit NICU nurses and doctors to show them how much their children have grown. But an appreciation dinner organized by multiple families is a first.
"The nurses and doctors who did get invited were very touched and honored by the invitation," Sanchez said. "It's very rewarding. NICU nursing is not always easy. It's critical care and there's a lot of attention to detail, in terms of making sure everything is safe for the baby."
Miriam Flores said she knew she wanted to do something to show her appreciation to the NICU employees since Bianca was released from the hospital, so she was excited when Prestia approached her recently with the idea of hosting a dinner.
"It's awful being in there," Flores said of the time she spent with her daughters in the NICU. "The nurses made it comfortable for us. They took the time to sit there and talk to you. Not just about the babies, but about other things, just to get our minds off it."
Wilk said at first she didn't want family members coming to visit in the hospital, so it was the doctors and nurses who held her hand and cried with her as she went through rough times.
"They deserve more than a dinner," Wilk said. "I'm really excited to get a chance to obviously show appreciation for the doctors and nurses, but also for their significant others to see just how much they can change our lives in a good way."
Sanchez said the NICU staff works hard to care not just for the babies but for the entire family. Prestia, Flores and Wilk said that certainly was true in all of their cases.
"We bonded with the staff there because they became human to us," Prestia said. "They were our providers, but ultimately they became our friends."