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Hospital throws 'graduation' ceremony for baby girl who spent 80 days in the NICU

Baby Gloria was discharged from the NICU two weeks before she was actually due to be born.

Hospital throws 'graduation' ceremony for baby girl who spent 80 days in the NICU
Cover Image Source: Facebook/South Texas Health System

Gloria Patten weighed just two pounds when she was born at 26 weeks. She then spent nearly 12 weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the McAllen Medical Center in Texas, during which time she made quite an impression on the medical staff who took care of her. So much so that when she was finally strong enough to go home with her parents Alana and Jon, the staff sent her off in style with a spectacular graduation ceremony, complete with a graduation cap and robe. Gloria was discharged from the NICU on Tuesday, two weeks before she was actually due to be born.


"She’s right next to me now. That part has a been a relief," Alana said in an interview with Good Morning America. "I feel like we can be a full family now." She gave birth to Gloria on February 29, which also happened to be Leap Day, when she was only 26 weeks into her pregnancy. This was Alana's first pregnancy and as soon as she delivered her daughter via an emergency c-section, the baby was whisked away by doctors who kept the 2-pound newborn alive. Gloria was then on a ventilator, making it impossible for her parents to even hold her until nearly two weeks after her birth.


"She was so tiny and I just remember how painstaking of a process it would be just so I could hold her," Alana recalled. "We’d have to get the whole team to come over to transfer her from the incubator to my arms." Although she was discharged from the hospital three days after giving birth, the new mom was tormented by the notion that she couldn't take her daughter home with her then. Gloria went on to stay in the NICU for nearly 12 more weeks, which was made all the more complicated by the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.


The pandemic made it incredibly difficult for Alana and Jon to visit their baby girl as the hospital had to put in restrictions for visitors. They could only visit their baby one at a time and only during certain hours of the day. Moreover, Jon refrained from visiting the hospital too much as he works in home health care and was worried about possibly spreading any germs to his daughter and other babies in the NICU. 


"It was all to keep the NICU safe and we understood that, but as brand new parents, it felt like we were a world away from her," said Alana. "My husband held her for the first time when she came home." The NICU nurses who watched over Gloria during her stay at the hospital remember the ways the new mom made sure to stay connected with her daughter even from afar, including calling the nursing station at the start of each shift to check on how her baby was doing. 


"She provided breast milk all throughout the baby’s stay and she visited almost every day," said Enedelia Reyna, one of the registered nurses who cared for Gloria. "And they read to the baby all day, which is very important and was heartwarming to watch, to say the least." Gloria's discharge day graduation ceremony was also Alana's idea, as she wanted to celebrate her daughter's incredible achievement of beating the odds. Reyna and the other nurses and doctors who cared for the baby lined the hospital walls to say goodbye as Gloria left in her mother's arms. "This is our first baby who really stayed with us during this new [coronavirus] time," said DeeDee Cantu, a registered nurse and the NICU supervisor. "It was very emotional. There were a lot of tears."


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