HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Every year the staff from the Huntsville Hospital NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) holds a party for the NICU graduates who are two years old.
This year, the babies born in 2013, and their families, packed into the Matrix gym on Leeman Ferry to see the staff that helped them through such a crucial time.
"We struggle with the 'are they going to do well' or what the outcome will be," said Dr. Thomas Davison, the neonatologist for the NICU. "It' s nice to see them run around and be kids."
It was just as moving for the parents, who say they remember where they came from and -- with growth, first steps and first words -- how far they've come.
"You have to leave your children with unknown people," recalled mother Shae Mosley. "I'll never forget the day we left [the hospital], I cried the whole way home. It never got any easier."
"Anytime I'd wake up in the middle of the night, I would call and they would give us updates," said another mother, Megan Edwards.
That over-and-above service comes down to a simple mantra that Staff Nurse Judy Dodd says was shared with her from a close friend.
She said, "If you ever get to the point where it doesn't touch you with every patient you take care of, you don;t need to do it anymore."
Some families even traveled from as far as Missouri and other states to say hello to the people that brought them through the vulnerable time with their newborns.
"We live in Kentucky, my husband is stationed at Fort Campbell," said Amanda Pannell. "But of course we had to come. I don't know what would've happened if we hadn't been here and had access to the care that we had access to."
It was rewarding for the staff who see the laughing toddlers, and a relief for the mothers who know all too well the struggle of having a newborn in intensive care.
"For all the other families in the NICU," said Mosley. "It's scary, but they're in good hands."