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Babies who were NICU neighbors turn prom dates 17 years later: 'It just brings you joy'

Tatum Kelly and Leighton Long first 'met' at HCA Healthcare’s The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial in Nashville in 2005.

Babies who were NICU neighbors turn prom dates 17 years later: 'It just brings you joy'
Cover Image Source: Facebook/Good Morning America

Tennessee teenagers Tatum Kelly and Leighton Long first "met" at HCA Healthcare's TriStar Centennial Medical Center in August 2005. The two were under the medical team's care at the Nashville hospital after their mothers endured difficult pregnancies and had to give birth to their children early. Leighton was born on August 22 at 28 weeks, weighing 2 pounds 10 ounces. Tatum was born three days later, on August 25, at 24 weeks, weighing 1 pound 7 ounces.

Jaime Horton, now the NICU manager at HCA Healthcare's TriStar Centennial Medical Center, was a bedside nurse at the hospital when the babies were born. She recalled caring for Tatum telling Fox News, "She was just a super sick little girl. She was really tiny for her age, a little over a pound, and her mom was still pretty sick."



 

Tatum's mother, Laura Kelly and Leighton's mother, Lorrie Long, were incredibly sick during their pregnancies. The children's parents were able to support one another during troubling times as their babies fought to survive. "Lorrie was one of the first people I met in the NICU," said Kelly. "I can't remember if we were handwashing or if it was just because they were two beds down, but we just formed that connection."

"It might be a rough day one day with your baby, so you rely on each other. And she gave me so much hope because we were going through the same thing," Long added. The infants managed to survive... and thrive! Now 17 years later, they decided to go to prom together.



 

"It just brings you joy," Horton shared, "There's not always a happy ending in the NICU." The family's connection continued for years, even after their children were discharged. Despite being 200 miles apart, "we met on holidays. We did our first birthday parties together. We went to Knoxville for Leighton's and then they came here for ours," Kelly said.



 

It was Tatum's idea to call Leighton for prom. While they're both 17, Leighton is a high school junior and Tatum just finished her senior year. "We're close friends," Leighton, who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, told Good Morning America. "Throughout elementary school, from what I remember, I think we'd meet up maybe once a month and would meet halfway between here and Knoxville and just hang out for a while," Tatum, who is from Pulaski, Tennessee, said.



 

The prom was held in April and the two had an absolute blast. "We had a lot of fun. He got to meet some of my friends and it was really cool because they were all really accepting of him and were excited to meet him," Tatum said. "After prom, we went and did laser tag and bowling with some of my friends and had a lot of fun."

"It was really fun. It was cool meeting new people and dancing and laser tag and bowling. It was just a new experience," Leighton added.



 



 

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