Fort Worth, TX,
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Reunion Brings Back Memories and Friendships Made in the NICU

Caregivers and patient families "Step Right Up" to celebrate at circus-themed NICU reunion.

By Jean Yaeger

Tate McGuire1Cy and Jennifer McGuire spent a grueling two months at their infant son’s side in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Cook Children’s Medical Center – Fort Worth in 2016.

Today, Tate is a healthy and cheerful 7-year-old. He knows he was hospitalized as a baby, and that his Peaks Dragon stuffie came from that hospital. He’s eager for cotton candy, the bouncy house and hugs from his favorite nurses when his family returns for a NICU reunion April 28 on the front lawn.  

Tate has come a long way since his first trip to Cook Children’s, rushed there by ambulance when he was only a few hours old. Tate was a preemie born with a malformation of his esophagus and trachea that made it impossible to feed and difficult to breathe. He needed surgery and then treatment for pneumonia during his recovery in the NICU.

His parents look back with gratitude for the nurses and doctors who took care of Tate during his ups and downs and scary moments. Cy and Jennifer remember the names of many of the medical team members, especially those they saw and spoke with routinely.

Even after seven years, Tate’s parents still have a soft place in their heart for the nurses … for their swift and coolheaded response every time Tate’s alarms sounded. For their reassuring words of encouragement. For taking the time to answer questions. For making the McGuires feel heard and respected and involved in their son’s care.

The trust that Jennifer and Cy placed in the NICU staff back in 2016 created a bond that still exists. That’sTate McGuire18 why it’s important to them that Tate gets to know Colleen Reinelt, RN and Jonathan Nedrelow, M.D. and others who provided his critical care.

The McGuires make it a point to travel from Aledo for the annual NICU reunions at Cook Children’s. The gathering in 2023 was the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jennifer takes photos every year of Tate with Colleen, Dr. Nedrelow and the other caregivers they recognize. Because she treasures those encounters, Jennifer wants to save the memories in a timeline of images to show her son. 

Each reunion is a chance to say hello, give hugs and celebrate how much the former NICU patients have grown.

“It was wonderful to see everyone,” Jennifer said of the 2023 reunion. “They all remembered Tate, and it was so nice to see it come full circle. They saw him at his worst, and now he’s doing amazing.”

Staff members enjoy the reunions because they get to visit with the children who were once the sickest babies at the medical center. The average length of stay in the NICU is slightly less than a month, but some infants remain much longer. Once a baby is discharged from the NICU, the family doesn’t usually see those same caregivers again. 

Colleen said every patient in the NICU makes an impression. She remembers taking Tate to surgery, hisTate McGuire13 nickname (“Tater Bug”), and what room he stayed in. She was happy to receive another hug from Tate each time their path crossed at last year’s reunion.

It’s rewarding at these events, she said, to see a thriving child who was once a baby with a brain bleed or needing resuscitation, for example. Nurses, doctors, Child Life specialists and therapists love to visit with those kids and their parents and siblings again -- outside the NICU.

“You develop relationships with these families. It’s hard on them and it’s hard for us when they leave,” Colleen said. “You remember their smiles and you remember their laughter. All of the kindness in their heart. And it means so much that they want to stay in contact with you.”

The 2024 Cook Children’s NICU reunion promises carnival food, fun and circus-themed festivities from 1-4pm on Sunday, April 28, at the Fort Worth medical center. Past patients are invited to come in costume as a circus animal, ringmaster or performer.

Families are encouraged to bring posters decorated with photos, a short write-up of their baby’s time in the NICU, and updates on how the child’s doing now.

"Our NICU stay at Cook Children’s was mentally, physically, and emotionally draining,” Jennifer wrote on her storyboard in 2017. “That said, it was absolutely the best place for our Tate to spend his first 2 months of life!  Cook Children’s is such a special place.  Everyone works together as a team with a genuine desire to help heal your child.  They encourage parents to take an active role in that team, which eases the trauma of it all.  Plus, the ability to spend both days and nights with our son, in his room, was priceless.”

Making Connections

Dr. Nedrelow serves as Senior Vice President and Associate Chief Medical Officer for Cook Children’s Health Care System. He came to Cook Children’s almost 20 years ago as a neonatologist.

Tate McGuire9The NICU environment tends to create unique connections, Dr. Nedrelow pointed out. Strong relationships form because the patient families and medical staff are moving together through victories and hardship. It’s a place of intense emotions, teamwork and a shared purpose: Helping the infant heal and go home.

Children who spent time in the NICU as babies like to hear the stories, he said. At the reunions, they stand in long lines to meet and greet the nurses and doctors they know from those stories.

“It’s magical to see the child’s face light up,” Dr. Nedrelow said. “They’ll say, ‘I remember my time in the NICU.’ Of course they don’t, but they remember other people’s memory of it.”

The reunions are powerful and joyful for everyone involved. They provide a sense of closure. 

“It feels very meaningful to these families to be able to come back and interact with the staff for no other purpose than to celebrate the health of their child,” he said.

Tate’s Journey

Tate was born in September 2016, five weeks before his due date. Nurses in the delivery room had trouble suctioning his throat, which was a red flag for a complex condition called tracheoesophageal fistula with esophageal atresia. In simplest terms … Tate’s windpipe and food tube were abnormally joined, and his esophagus ended in a pouch instead of reaching his stomach. His airway was not fully developed and would collapse on itself, another concern.

“He wasn’t able to eat, and his breathing was not as good as it should be because part of the air was goingTate McGuire5 into his GI tract,” Jennifer explained.

Tate was taken by ambulance from the delivery hospital to Cook Children’s. Cy followed the Teddy Bear Transport to the NICU. It was a whirlwind of activity, he recalls, but the staff helped him settle in.

Jennifer, meanwhile, remained in the delivery hospital. She was released two days later and immediately went to Cook Children’s, where she was able to hold Tate for the first time just before he underwent surgery. Colleen was the nurse in the NICU who placed Tate in Jennifer’s arms.

“Colleen, who later became our primary nurse, was actually the first person I saw,” Jennifer said. “She showed me how to hold Tate, with all that he was connected to, and she calmed my fears. She was amazing.”

Pediatric surgeon Marty Knott, D.O. repaired Tate’s esophagus and trachea, stretching his esophagus to reach his stomach. He developed complications afterward and was placed on a ventilator. Until his chest tube came out, his parents couldn’t hold him. They could rub his back, hold his hands, talk and sing to Tate. The nurses gave encouragement.

Jennifer was also thankful that the NICU staff encouraged moms to pump breastmilk if possible. Tate was able to take her milk through a nasogastric (NG) tube in his nose. Gradually his breathing and eating improved.

Another blessing, they said, was having a single-patient room with a foldout couch. Cy or Jennifer spent every night with Tate while the other parent stayed home with their two other sons, a kindergartener and a 3-year-old at the time. Tate’s grandparents took turns coming to Aledo to help out at home.   

Over their two-month stay in the NICU, the McGuires got to know all the staff. They have distinct memories of the interactions with caregivers they knew by name, including the nurse who calmly did chest compressions the time Tate was unresponsive.

They remember Dr. Nedrelow as extremely knowledgeable and skilled in neonatology. At the same time, he advocated for parents being an active part of the team in caring for their child. They credit Dr. Nedrelow’s openness to their questions and any concerns they expressed.

Tate grew in the NICU to 7 pounds, 6 ounces. After he was discharged, the family visited the Cook Children’s NEST Center, a support and evaluation program that follows up with former NICU patients.

The family celebrates the anniversary of Tate’s homecoming with a cake of his choice every year. He’s ableTate McGuire12 to eat anything and keep up with his brothers. Tate loves hugs, which his parents attribute to the frequent cuddling in the NICU once he could be held.   

His dad says they’ll continue attending the NICU reunions because Tate’s medical team deserves to see the impact their skills and kindness made on his life. 

“They got to see him at his rough start,” Cy said.  “And now here’s this cheerful kid running around giving the world joy.”

More about the NICU

Cook Children’s NICU is designated a Level IV NICU, which is the highest level of neonatal care for medically fragile babies. Our NICU offers 106 beds in 99 rooms, including rooms designed for twins, triplets or quadruplets. The unit hit an all-time high of 101 infants in January 2024 – evidence of the North Texas region’s population growth and our medical center’s impact on the community.

We provide advanced technology and access to specialists including cardiology, genetics and neurology. Emergency surgery can be performed without having to leave the unit. The NICU care team also includes lactation specialists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists and social workers. Watch a video tour or call 682-885-4375 to speak with a member of our team. 


Having a child in the NICU can be a very scary time. And your friends and family might not be able to relate to what you’re going through. That’s why Cook Children’s has parent support groups that meet weekly on the NICU floor. It’s a safe and confidential place for parents and caregivers to share their stories and learn about ways to manage their stress. For information about resources, sibling support, the NICU reunion and more, go to  Neonatal Support Groups (