Every year, graduates and families involved with UPMC Hamot’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) reunite and celebrate the lives that they have.

It’s an important day each year where people can meet others who have gone through similarly traumatic experiences during childbirth.

It was their first NICU meet up since before the pandemic, something families said they’ve been looking forward to a chance to see the nurses who have helped families overcome difficult circumstances.

The birth of a child is said by parents to be one of the most magical moments of your life.

But sometimes, complications can arise with childbirth that can make that magical moment one of the scariest.

“The 23, 24, 25 weekers, some of them we didn’t even know were going to make it out of the NICU,” said Deana Williams, NICU nurse practitioner.

UPMC Hamot’s neonatal intensive care unit strives to help newborns facing adversity and want people to know that a trip to the NICU isn’t an end-of-life situation.

Success stories were a plenty at UPMC Park Sunday afternoon as families and children who have, as Hamot puts it, “graduated” from the NICU enjoy a day of fun, celebrating with nurses and other families who found themselves in situations similar to their own.

“It’s important that you kind of build your village and know people that have been through it, gone through it, so they understand the struggles that you had back then and maybe some of the special challenges that your kiddos have encountered as they get older,” said Carrie Wilson, whose son Sawyer was in the NICU.

Wilson’s son, Sawyer, was born at 34 weeks. He’s now two and a half years-old and loves his SeaWolves.

All kinds of families attended Sunday, some hoping to show appreciation that was delayed by pandemic policy.

“She wanted to bring her parents so that they grandparents could thank the staff because they weren’t allowed in during COVID,” said Jean Burns, director of the NICU at UPMC Hamot.

The NICU grads also got a chance to walk the field before the game and a 7-year-old got to throw out the first pitch.