PORTLAND – Normally, people are not excited to see the doctor, but parents accompanied by healthy babies and toddlers greeted Dr. Peter Marro with a smile Sunday.

“We came just to see you and say thank you,” one parent said to the chief of Maine Neonatology Associates, beaming at her toddler who was eager to play in the Children’s Museum and Theatre.

“It’s just so overwhelming,” Dr. Marro said of seeing grown, healthy children.

The last time he saw them, they were all patients of the neonatal intensive care unit at Maine Medical Center. Nearly 500 families gathered Sunday at the museum for a reunion with Dr. Marro, staff nurses and volunteers for March of Dimes. It was the first Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Family Reunion that March of Dimes and the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital has hosted in five years.

“It really felt important with our presence in the NICU increased, to recognize families,” March of Dimes Maine State Director Erin O’Connor Jones said of the organization’s decision to reinstate the reunion. “It’s a happy occasion for parents to show up with their babies that are walking and talking.”

With over 800 babies born in the neonatal intensive care unit each year, March of Dimes partners with the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital to offer support to the families of those babies, O’Connor Jones said. In addition to comforting families during the tumultuous first days of a premature baby’s life, she said March of Dimes volunteers also offer education through written material and workshops to help parents make informed decisions about their child’s care.

Old Orchard Beach residents Shannon and Steve Bryant stopped by the reunion with their 10-month-old daughter Isabelle. After 27 and a half weeks of a smooth pregnancy, Shannon Bryant said she went to the hospital in labor.

“We consider her a miracle,” she said. “We call her ‘Tiny but Mighty.’“

During their daughter’s 95-day stay at the hospital, Shannon Bryant said the nurses on staff were conscientious and meticulous in their care and support. Having to leave Isabelle every night for the first 75 days was the hardest part, she said, but was grateful to have not only the nurses, but March of Dimes NICU Family Support Specialist Janelle Bainter as a comforting resource.

Bainter was greeting every family as they walked through the museum doors. Serving as the family support specialist for the past year, there were a number of familiar faces.

“It’s so great to see these families,” Bainter said. “It’s really a testament to the tremendous expertise of the nurses and doctors.”

Evan Porter, 5, represents the excellence of the neonatal intensive care unit’s staff through his work as an ambassador for March of Dimes in the Waterville area. His mother Jenny Porter, of China, said Evan was born after 25 weeks of pregnancy, weighing just 1 pound 14 ounces.

“He was in (the NICU) for three and a half months,” she said. “He came home on his due date.”

Running around the “Have a Ball” room in the museum, Evan just appears to be small for his age. His mother said he started a combination of preschool and kindergarten this fall to catch up with his peers.

“You really would never even know (he was born prematurely),” she said, watching her son as he points to the ball he sent up a tube. “Sometimes (having a premature baby) seems like a tough job, but it is definitely worth it all.”

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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