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A celebration of life: Fargo’s Essentia NICU reunion gives families, staff time to enjoy ‘their miracles’

Kai Roppe, left, and his brother Keaton, get ready to knock knuckles Sunday, June 3, 2018, at the NICU reunion at Essentia Health in Fargo. The twins, who will be 2 years old in a couple of weeks, had spent months in the neonatal intensive care unit, said their mother, Natalie Roppe, right. Kai is held by his grandmother, Jody Wibe. (Helmut Schmidt / Forum News Service)1 / 2
16-month-old Taryn Teberg is held by her father, Brian, as her mother, Emily, stands nearby, at the NICU reunion at Essentia Health in Fargo on Sunday, June 3, 2018. The Kindred, N.D., toddler had been in the NICU for 49 days after her birth 12 weeks early, Emily Teberg said. (Helmut Schmidt / Forum News Service)2 / 2

FARGO - Miracles are hard to come by, but on Sunday, June 3, a few dozen of them merrily toddled around the lower level atrium of Essentia Health.

The hospital held its neonatal intensive care unit's annual reunion, hosting parents and a good-sized gaggle of mostly 18- to 24-month-olds who've survived and thrived, despite getting a shaky start to life.

"All these families are familiar," said Jamie Astrup, the nurse manager of the NICU. "We're excited to have them visit," so staff can "see their miracles."

All of the families have "different journeys," Astrup said. Some children were born premature, others with various medical conditions. Many babies may be in the NICU for a month or more.

Emily and Brian Teberg of Kindred took turns holding their shy 16-month-old daughter, Taryn.

Taryn was born 12 weeks early and weighed 2 pounds 9 ounces. She had developed sepsis and was on a ventilator. She was in the NICU for 49 days, Emily said.

The couple had jobs and two older children to care for, shuttling back and forth between the NICU.

"It was hard to be in here every day. But we also trusted the NICU staff," Emily said. "A lot of miles in those vehicles, and every mile was worth it."

It was the second time the couple had a child in the NICU.

The couple had lost a baby in 2016. Their daughter, Tehnlee, died at 15 days old, Brian Teberg said.

"It was harder the second time around," to have a child in the NICU, he said. "The staff here is absolutely amazing. They helped us through everything,"

"They are actually part of our family," Emily said.

A few feet away, Keaton and Kai Roppe were tearing through a bag of goldfish crackers.

The Lake Park twins will be 2 years old on June 22, their mother,Natalie Roppe, said.

They were born after 27 weeks in the womb and weighed less than 2½ pounds each. Keaton spent three months in the NICU. Kai was also later transferred to the Sanford Hospital, and spend four months in NICU.

Their biggest obstacle was being born with premature lungs. They were on ventilators for almost a month. Kai had a brain bleed and still has a shunt to drain fluid, Natalie said.

But they are active, wrestling, giggling and talking among themselves.

"It's hard to imagine that they're just normal babies now. You always remember that they are preemies," Natalie said. "You get to see how tough they are ... even though they shouldn't have to be that tough at that age."

By the popcorn machine, Dr. Scott Mutchler, a pediatric critical care specialist in the NICU, chatted with a steady stream of parents, kids in tow.

"It's unbelievable. I've been doing it for 30 years now. It's always a thrill to see how the little babies are doing. It brings me joy," Mutchler said.

"Thanks be to God that we can have some of these celebrations," Mutchler said.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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