VALHALLA, N.Y. – For Abby Lester, the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital was once a place filled with anxiety and fear. Today, it’s a place she can go to celebrate.
“I can come back here and I feel such a sense of comfort,” said Lester, a resident of Yonkers. “They saved the life of my child.”
Lester’s son Casey, now 3 years old, is one of many children who was born prematurely at the hospital’s Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (RNICU). Each year, the hospital cares for hundreds of babies who are born as prematurely as 24 weeks into the pregnancy and initially weigh as little as less than one pound. On Thursday, the hospital celebrated the unit’s 30th anniversary by inviting hundreds of its former patients and family members for an afternoon of fun on the Valhalla grounds.
“In the ICU, there aren’t even windows there when the patients are being treated,” said Dr. Edmund LaGamma, director of the RNICU. “So to see our former patients come back here, outside playing as healthy children, is a very special moment.”
The grounds were filled with blow-up bounce houses, clowns, music and food for the guest’s enjoyment. Dr. Lance Parton, associate director of the RNICU, said the event represented the progress the unit has made over the course of three decades.
“Today it’s not just that these children can survive and are functioning,” Parton said. “They’re fully healthy children just as everyone else and that’s because of the treatment they were able to receive here.”
Jennifer Eckert of Walden, N.Y. was at the event with her 9-month-old daughter Zoe who was released from the hospital unit in January. Eckert said it was a great moment to see her daughter’s former doctors and nurses in a different environment for once.
“It’s nice to be here at the hospital for a positive reason,” Eckert said. “I’m just looking forward to speaking with and thanking everyone for saving Zoe’s life.”