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20th Annual NICU Reunion

By: Faith Jeffcoat

It’s a sun-soaked summer day at the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium. Children arrive holding their parents’ hands, their eyes dancing with excitement as they catch glimpses of the zoo critters they are anxious to meet. Dozens of attendees are donning vibrant tie-dyed color T-shirts that symbolize the story of their special journeys as a community.

The NICU Reunion has become an eagerly anticipated annual event that brings together NICU families and their care teams from UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital and UPMC Children’s Hospital. With more than 10,000 babies born at UPMC Magee annually, its NICU is one of the largest in Pennsylvania and provides care to more than 1,500 severely or critically ill babies each year. UPMC Children’s Hospital is also routinely recognized as one of the top pediatric hospitals in the country.

This year marked the 20th Annual NICU Reunion — the largest to date. The NICU Reunion started out as a birthday party, where a few dozen NICU graduates and their families gathered at Kennywood amusement park. From there, the event steadily grew, changing locations, and eventually finding its home at the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium in 2009. It has continued to expand, and now welcomes more than 100 families each year — with the 2023 event setting a record number of 470 attendees.

In addition to uniting the NICU community every year, the event also raises funds for the Parent Advisory Council, a support group for parents with babies in the NICU. Throughout the day, children enjoyed face painting, performances by the Pittsburgh Puppet Works, shaved ice treats from Mr. Wu, and a dance party with a DJ. Attendees also used paint to stamp their tiny handprints on Christmas ornaments, which are gifted to NICU families during the holiday season. Another signature part of the reunion is the T-shirts.

“For the 20th Reunion T-shirts, we wanted to do something special. We did a tie-dye design to symbolize all the different colors of the shirts worn throughout the years,” says Denise Wickline, Events Manager at Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation. In fact, many NICU staff members and graduates return with their families annually to reconnect.

“After 20 years, I have gotten to watch the NICU graduates come back year after year and grow into these amazing kids,” Denise says. “One of my favorite parts is watching the kids reconnect with their nurses who get so excited to see them grow from the NICU.”

The NICU Reunion is a heartwarming celebration, demonstrating that the journey through the NICU is not a solitary one, but a shared experience that forms lasting connections between families, caregivers, and the community. 

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Read the full Winter 2024 MAGEE Magazine issue here.