Miracle babies, strong families gather to celebrate

Meg Drake won’t be at today’s NICU Reunion. Her military family lives out of state. But she couldn’t attend the first reunion, either. She was a patient in the Carle NICU then, and she was fighting for her life.

Today’s reunion is likely to attract more than the usual 600-700 attendees because it’s an anniversary year, the significance of which is not lost on Drake.

“I think about it all the time,” she said about her shaky start 30 years ago. Her story, though, is like so many others where fragile babies and their worried families persevere and thrive.

Drake was born July 14, 1985. She suffered a stroke just before she arrived, but today tells of how new technology and the skilled and caring staff at Carle helped her be here to tell her story. Had Drake been born just a few years earlier, she likely would not have survived, doctors said.

“You started out on ventilators and tubes, and came home to us smiling. What a glorious day that was. I love you, Miss Meggie,” Drake’s mother Marcy Schacht said in a recent email to her daughter.

Jump forward 22 years, and Drake was back in Carle’s NICU, this time staying close to the isolette where her first child spent the first two weeks of his life.

“I never wanted to leave his side,” Drake said, recalling how nervous she was to take Damien Jr., who a Carle nurse helped nickname D.J., home.

“I shouldn’t have worried. The NICU nurses took care of everything. We still can’t believe we got a night on our own while we were still in the hospital to practice caring for D.J. ourselves,” Drake added, still marveling at the rooming-out process eight years and three additional children later.

She’s grateful for all the care and support her family received. And she’s glad she could give back in a very important way. While D.J. was still in the NICU, she pumped extra breast milk to help other babies there get a strong start.

For each reunion, Carle sends invitations to the families of NICU “graduates” from the last 10 years, but anyone who was ever a patient in Carle’s NICU is welcome to attend.

“Our families truly look forward to this event,” said Pam Unger, Carle’s director of Women & Children’s Services. “We all get to reconnect, share milestones and enjoy the awesome miracles that are their children.”
Community members’ generous donations to Carle Center for Philanthropy make the annual NICU Reunion possible.

Drake hopes to attend next year’s event.

Decades after spending the first nine months of her life on monitors that went off every time she stopped breathing, Drake and her family now live in Texas where her husband is stationed at Fort Bliss. When she graduates from college in May, the Drakes will eagerly return to the Midwest.

Carle NICU staff love when NICU graduates and their families return.

“The NICU reunion helps our staff see how much their everyday ‘jobs’ make a significant difference in the lives of so many,” said Theresa Green, RN, a NICU supervisor.