Abena Blackwell broke into tears as soon as she spotted her infant daughter’s “miracle worker.”
It wasn’t that long ago that her daughter, Sage Ambroise, was born at only 25 weeks. At 1 pound, 10 ounces, Sage could fit in her mother’s palm.
Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals at North Shore Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit rallied around the little girl, putting her in an incubator to further develop her vital organs. They monitored her breathing around the clock, helped Blackwell understand the challenges of premature birth and held the scared mother’s hand through the months-long roller-coaster.
“They became my second family,” said Blackwell, as she handed her now 8-month-old daughter to Dr. Paul Fassbach, the miracle worker, on Sunday at a reunion for patients and their doctors and nurses at the hospital, 1100 NW 95th St., west of Miami Shores. “She’s come a long way.”
Fassbach gladly took the infant, looked at her and smiled.
“This is why we do what we do,” he said as he cradled the little girl, dressed in a bright yellow onesie with a matching bow. “She’s amazing.”
Sage was one of about a two dozen preemies who came to the superheroes-themed reunion. The little superheroes ran around, got their faces painted, danced to music and snacked on hot dogs and cupcakes.
“These kids are fighters,” said Fassbach, who, despite working a 24-hour shift the day before, showed up to meet the children and their parents. “This is what it’s all about.”
With Sage in one arm, Fassbach gladly took another infant, Nashla Baez, who was in the NICU at the same time as Sage.
“These two were like sisters, they went through everything together,” Fassbach said.
Nashla’s mother, Glorivee Toribio, said seeing her baby girl in the incubator and not being able to hold her for the first few weeks of her life was the “hardest thing.”
But the support from the doctors — and other mothers going through the same ordeal — helped.
“We were all there for each other,” she said.
The 18-bed neonatal facility at North Shore is one of several in South Florida, including the much-larger Jackson Memorial, equipped to care for the youngest, most at-risk patients. At any time, there is at least one doctor, a nurse practitioner, a neonatologist and about seven nurses on hand to care for the babies — and their parents. In a year, North Shore sees about 120 patients.
For Mia Michelle Alvarez’s parents, Sunday was more like a family reunion. Mia’s mother, Mayra Ramallo, said she practically lived in the NICU with her daughter for about two months.
Ramallo and her husband, Jesus Alvarez, had moved to Miami from Venezuela to study marketing. When Ramallo was about 28 weeks pregnant, a sonogram showed more amniotic fluid than there should have been. Her doctor told her to go to North Shore. Two weeks later, doctors were forced to do a C-section when they realized the baby was getting too much fluid.
When Mia was born she was swollen because of amniotic fluid and weighed nearly 5 pounds, even though she was about two months early. Luckily, the fluid drained within a week. But Ramallo said the first few weeks were difficult for her.
With no family close by, she and her husband quickly leaned on the hospital staff as their extended family.
“It was like having our family here,” Ramallo said. Mia, who was sporting a Wonder Woman outfit, is now a happy and healthy 9-month-old.
Another happy reunion was between a nurse and her “little one.” Marcia Davidson-Hall has worked in the NICU for 25 years and often remembers faces, but not always the names.
When she saw Angelina Ricardo she opened her arms and gave the little girl’s mother a hug. Angelina had an intestinal blockage and needed surgery only days after she was born. She was only about 3 pounds at birth, and born six weeks early.
At about 17 months, Angelina is now a happy, active girl who loves cartoons, junk food and playing hide-and-seek.
Her mother, Jennifer Rivera, started to cry as she described her little girl.
“It’s still very emotional,” she said. “Let’s just say she’s spoiled.”