Story and Photo by
Tripler Army Medical Center Public Affairs
HONOLULU — The Tripler Army Medical Center 10th floor conference room was full of laughing children, happy parents and an excited staff, Saturday, when the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit hosted its 2nd Annual Graduate Christmas Party.
“Last year, we wanted to see if we could get in contact with families who had gone through NICU,” explained Sgt. Nathan Ikehara, NICU noncommissioned officer in charge.
Last year, more than 100 former patients and their parents attended the party. Leona Bourcier, the event coordinator, said this year, almost double that amount showed up.
“We’ve had a very positive response,” she said. “We don’t stop caring about these children once they’re out of the unit, so it’s nice to see how well they’re doing. That’s why we really want this to become an ongoing tradition.”
NICU staff members paid for the event themselves, primarily by collecting plastic bottles for recycling. Various staff members volunteered snacks and drinks, and many staff members even dressed up as elves or, in the case of Ikehara, a Christmas penguin.
“All you have to do is look at these kids to understand why we want to do this every year,” he said.
Betsy Coughlin, an NICU staff member who took the lead in organizing this year’s party, said that since some children are in the unit for anywhere between a week and six months, it’s very easy for the staff to get attached. This fact was especially obvious when 12-month-old triplets, Brooklyn, Benjamin and Blake Larson, were brought in by their parents.
The Larson children collectively spent a month in NICU, and during that time, their family became close with the staff.
“I love seeing them come back,” Coughlin said. “I love to see how they’re growing. It’s so encouraging for me, and I think for all of us.”
Of course, no holiday party would be complete without a visit from Santa Claus. Fortunately, he was on hand, in the form of volunteer Art Laughbach, the husband of one of the NICU nurses.
“Every child loves Santa Claus, and our kids are no exception,” Bourcier said. “It all comes back to making them smile and making them happy. Because seeing them that way, and seeing them healthy, is what makes us happy. This was our second year holding this graduation party, and we plan on many more to come.”