Families, UAMS NICU Staff Celebrate at Annual Reunion

By Kev' Moye

The annual event gives NICU team members, the children they cared for, and their families a chance to reflect and mingle in a festive, celebratory setting.

“The reunion is a big deal for us because we like to see our families again,” said Sara Peeples, M.D., medical director of the unit. “Some of our babies stay in NICU for over 100 days. It’s wonderful for us to see the kids when they’re getting bigger, older and doing well. It’s a reminder of how our hard work is making a difference. It’s also great for families to come back and see the staff. The nurses and respiratory therapists that take care of our babies almost become a second family for our parents. Some of them keep in touch with one another even after they leave NICU. So, it is like a family reunion.”

The unit specializes in helping families deal with high-risk pregnancies, premature births and various medical needs. With staff working closely with families during scary and highly stressful times, bonds are naturally created. For many, that’s what makes the reunion a highly anticipated event.

Finger paint

Jasmine Bullock has a good time playing in the finger paint with her son, during the 2024 UAMS NICU Reunion.

“Being at the reunion gives you a chance to see how all the kids have grown and developed from being tiny hand-babies,” Jasmine Bullock said. “It’s been four years since my son was in NICU — they’re still part of his journey. If I need their services, I know that I can still call on the NICU staff.”

Being at the reunion is a way for Bullock and her family to express gratitude for the staff’s efforts to help her son, she added.

“I was 18 weeks and 3 days when my water broke,” she said. “Dr. Peeples and her team saved my son’s life. The nurses, the doctors — the entire team was phenomenal. My son is now thriving. That’s why I make it part of my business every year to come to the reunion.”

For Blake Pittman, the reunion is something he and his family don’t miss. The chance to show their appreciation for team members and reconnect with friends is important.

“Looking back, we got to know so many members of the staff, and we also made friends with other parents who had a child in the NICU,” he said. “This reunion is just a great time to see everyone again. I enjoy seeing the growth of the kids as well.”

While closely watching his child who was enjoying the reunion, Pittman said he’s thankful for the event and especially the dedication of the NICU team.

“The UAMS NICU unit means everything to us,” he said. “We’d lost a couple of kids beforehand. But the staff was extremely friendly. They were very comforting. The care they gave was phenomenal. They really mean everything to us.”

Bullock, who released a big laugh while dancing with her energetic son at the reunion, said her family had a blast — as expected.

“I had buried my first child, but I later had my NICU graduate in 2019,” she said. “It was a touching of warmth to my heart for them to be part of my story. I’m grateful for every staff member who played a part in the reunion, who’ve played a part in saving so many babies. The reunion was fantastic. If you missed it, come next year. The reunion is always a wonderful event.”

As Peeples slowly gazed over the facility at the reunion attendees, she smiled when reflecting on the importance of the unit and the celebration.


Two parents attending the 2024 UAMS NICU Reunion share a laugh, while watching their child enjoy the bubble machine.

“At these reunions, you see the families walk in with their child and you can’t help but to think back to when the child was on a ventilator, had a chest tube, or families were in tears because their baby was so sick,” she said. “Now the child is at the reunion running around, popping bubbles, eating cupcakes and doing normal kid things. It’s wonderful for us to witness that.

“We’re proud of the work we do in the UAMS NICU unit. We have a wonderful, talented and very caring staff. We provide great support to our parents, and it helps them become better prepared to care for our babies. We want our babies to have a successful, normal future. That starts in the NICU with us. Seeing them here and celebrating — always makes us happy.”