Jasmine Bailey's eyes lit up Sunday when Dr. Pushkar Wadgaonkar walked into the anteroom of the neonatal intensive care unit at Rogue Valley Medical Center.

Jasmine Bailey's eyes lit up Sunday when Dr. Pushkar Wadgaonkar walked into the anteroom of the neonatal intensive care unit at Rogue Valley Medical Center.

The Grants Pass woman was telling a story about the troubles her daughter, Olivia, endured as a premature baby. She interrupted her story and flashed a huge smile at Wadgaonkar.

"This is the doctor that saved her," she said.

Bailey and her husband, Beau Collins, joined some 175 families at RVMC to mark the annual Miracle Baby Reunion. Many visited with the doctors and nurses they came to know so well while their infants were in the NICU.

There was cake and carnival games, face-painting, clowns and lots of smiles and warm embraces.

"I get so touched when they want to come back," said Vicki Macy, a NICU nurse. "They remember our names."

Not all the NICU babies are tiny, but they all have some kind of medical condition at birth that requires special care. Olivia weighed 61/2 pounds when she was born, but she was six weeks premature. She had breathing problems and could neither suck nor swallow. Bailey and Collins made the trip from Grants Pass to see her every day for 20 days.

"If it wasn't for Dr. Wadgaonkar I don't know what we would have done," she said.

RVMC has the region's only neonatal intensive care unit, and treats about 350 infants a year from nine counties in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Normal human gestation is about 40 weeks. Macy said babies who are born at 37 weeks or earlier are moved to the NICU. Full term babies may go there, too, if they have developmental problems.

"C-section babies don't transition (from the womb to the world) as easily," Macy said. "Sometimes they require a little more sensitive monitoring."

Wadgaonkar, the NICU medical director, said it's gratifying to see the babies developing normally.

"It makes all those nights when we're here seem worthwhile," he said.

"It is very humbling to see the amount of trust (parents) put in you," he said. "No decision is as clearcut as it seems."

Macy said she and the other NICU staff build lasting bonds with the infants and their parents.

"We get Christmas cards," she said. "We get birthday cards.

"They make a connection," Macy said. "We make a connection. I'm always truly amazed at such a wonderful turnout.

"Probably more so than any other area of the hospital, those connections stay with you," she said.

"For us it's an opportunity to see the babies walking and talking," she said. "We know we've made a difference."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.