Frankie Gay takes a tumble mid-dash toward her grandpa at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center's annual "Miracle Baby Reunion."
But the 20-month old comes up smiling. Lon Gay beams with pride as he scoops Frankie up off the carpet in response to her waving arms and cajoling grin.
Her father was there for his granddaughter when Frankie was born 12 weeks ahead of her due date, said Frankie's mother, Becky Gay.
"They took her early," Becky Gay said. "She wasn't growing. My dad went into the C-section with me."
Frankie was born with a hole in her heart, and weighed in at just one pound and 13 ounces. Given a 50/50 chance of survival, her daughter spent weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, she said.
Von Gay was a NICU patient herself after she contracted pneumonia as a newborn almost 29 years ago, she said.
"We are firm believers in Rogue Valley's NICU," said Becky's stepmother, Sheila Watson.
The hole in Frankie's heart healed on its own. But not before there were days, weeks and months of anxiety, Becky Gay said.
"She saved Frankie's life," she said, pointing across the room teeming with cupcakes, balloons, and families with stories of their gratitude toward NICU staff members.
Keri Wu, RN, was the first to realize Frankie's feeding tube had come out, "she was the first one there," said Becky Gay.
"She even called Becky after we left just to make sure they were doing well," said Watson.
Wu has 27 years experience at the hospital's NICU. And more than 30 years of "Miracle" stories.
"You were so darned little," Wu says, smiling at the purple-garbed toddler "I'll always be your friend."
RRMC is the regional referral center for babies born prematurely or with special medical needs after birth. The only NICU in the region, RRMC provides care to over 300 units from Southern Oregon and Northern California annually. The unit recently underwent a $6.8 million redesign and reconstruction that renovated the 16-bed NICU.
The Kimberlin family from Sams Valley attended the reunion as well. As her husband and three-year-old daughter munched on nachos, Amber Kimberlin, 26, said her daughter, Lily, is a NICU alumnus.
Born at 30 weeks, and weighing in at just 2 pounds eight ounces, her daughter struggled with feeding for months. And had hernia surgeries at two months old, she said.
"They sent her home on a feeding tube," Kimberlin said. "She was on that for five months. She finally got the hang of eating."
Now Amber is getting the hang of walking, she said.
"She wants to walk so bad," Kimberlin said.
Nathan Geissel, 15, in line for his second round of cupcakes, was one of the oldest "Miracle" babies to attend this year's celebration.
Geissel's mother said her son was born with a punctured lung after doctors performed a C-section following 22 hours of labor in 1998. Nathan spent only a few days in the NICU sporting "an oxygen helmet" while his lung reinflated, she said.
"I was one of the lucky ones," Nathan said. "I was only here for three days. And I'm still here today."
Wu's eyes search the packed room for the baby she's dubbed "Everlasting Evan." Born in February after spending just 24 weeks In Utero, Evan arrived at the hospital via emergency medical transport, she said. The tiny baby was on a ventilator, battling infections, and needing transfusions, she said.
Nursed back to health and sent down to a hospital in California for surgery on his eyes, Wu said she and other staff members have wondered how their little charge has been faring.
"My heart stopped," Wu said, describing her reaction to spotting the premie nursing happily in Esmerelda Cardenas' arms during Sunday's party. The Cardenas family drove from Tule Lake to attend the reunion, she said.
"This is why we do it," Wu said. "This is payday."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org.