Shawnee NICU reunion a sweet treat for families after a difficult time

SHAWNEE, Kan. -- It might be a little early for trick-or-treating right now, but that's what hundreds did Sunday. It was the 10th year for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit's annual reunion.

The largest conference room at Shawnee Mission Health filled with more than 700 people,  laughter, love, and a lot of costumed kids. Most of them started their lives in the hospital's NICU.

Rachel Francis' gave birth to her son Simon at 28 weeks more than four years ago. He spent 77 days at Shawnee Mission Health after he was born.

"They're family - absolutely," Francis said with a smile.

Nurse Lauren Brown said there's so much fear and anxiety about families being in the NICU.

"You don't expect to ever have a baby in the NICU," Brown said. "So of course we want to see them when they're out and their babies are growing and out of the hospital setting."

Parents feel the same way.

"We have come back every year," Francis said. "It's just an incredible experience, to be able to come back."

Simon was dressed as Chase from Paw Patrol, and eagerly enjoying the snacks while waiting for a balloon animal.

"To be able to come back and to thank them and to give them the opportunity to see Simon grow, and be inspired by other families who have gone through the same thing is incredible."

And to have the time to celebrate with their children is sweeter than any candy they'll get.

About 600 babies a year go to Shawnee Mission Health NICU. That's a little more than 10% of the 5,000 babies delivered at SMH every year.