Lyla Landry was a baby in a hurry.
While every pregnancy can be a set-up for some kind of surprise, Lyla's mother and father were in a state of shock when their first child made her grand entrance 10 weeks before her due date.
"It was very abrupt," Carla Landry of Buffalo said of the whirlwind delivery in September 2016, when she realized while at work that she was on the verge of labor much sooner than expected. She drove herself to her doctor's office and then to Sisters of Charity Hospital.
It was abrupt and a little frightening for Carla and her husband, Ryan, because Lyla weighed just 3 pounds, 3 ounces at birth. She would need constant care in Sisters' Neonatal Intensive Care Unit until it was safe for her to come home 46 days later.
On any given day, the unit at Sisters is responsible for more than 30 newborns with special needs. Each came into the world under circumstances that were dramatically different, yet so much alike that their moms and dads feel they share a special bond.
The connections were on display Sunday in a cheery picnic at the Buffalo Zoo. Sisters Hospital and the Sisters Hospital Foundation put on the Fourth Annual Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Graduate Reunion Picnic. It was a chance for parents to connect with one another but also with the unit's staff, who they had come to know during the weeks or months spent waiting for a child to grow healthy enough to come home for the first time.
Lyla's 46 days in the unit were not unlike the hospitalizations described by other moms and dads. Tiny bodies are hooked to tubes that help them breathe and eat. Everyone gushed about the doctors, nurses and therapists who helped them through a difficult time.
By the time Lyla went home, she weighed about 5 pounds. Now she's a year old, with bright blue eyes and wide cheeks. At 18 pounds, she surveyed the picnic Sunday from a pouch strapped to her dad's chest.
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit sees babies other than those born prematurely. Some have breathing problems, infections, low blood sugar or feeding problems, said Jean Cauley, the unit's nurse manager. Early next year, Sisters Hospital expects to open an expanded unit that will offer rooms for moms or dads to stay overnight. Outcomes are better and the length of stay shortens when parents stay the night with their children, Cauley said.
Heather and John Coles of Williamsville had been told they would be unable to have children. They intended to go see a reproduction specialist – until Heather learned she was pregnant with twins. At 27 weeks, she went into labor while at work, and got herself quickly to Sisters.
"Things advanced really quickly," she said. About three hours later, Andrew and Hannah were born, each weighing less than 3 pounds. Each would spend more than two months in the intensive care unit. The 8-month-olds now weigh more than 16 pounds.
When Heather Coles was asked why she attended the reunion Sunday, she became teary-eyed as she tried to explain how much the staff means to her and her family.
"The fact is," she said, "these are the people who allowed us to take our babies home. They made it possible for us to have the thriving families we have now."