Newswise — One-year-old Elias will never remember all the doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals who took care of him for the first five months of his life, but his parents, Gabriela and Rogelio Ramirez, will never forget them.

Elias was born at just 22 weeks − tiny, with almost translucent skin − and doctors at his local hospital in Stockton had him rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland.

“I’m so happy they made that decision,” Gabriela says. “That’s why I have my baby now.”

Every year, our Oakland NICU team cares for more than 400 babies like Elias − infants barely clinging to life. As a regional referral center for neonatal intensive care, the hospital also serves full-term babies with congenital abnormalities that require surgery, as well as babies that are devastatingly ill.

At 3 weeks old, Elias needed surgery to repair his intestines, followed by laser eye surgery to treat abnormal vessels that were threatening his retinas.

He was also treated for bleeding in his brain and experienced difficulty breathing. After more than five months at the hospital, Elias was finally able to go home.

“It was so hard for me, but I got so much support,” Gabriela says. “The social workers, nurses, doctors − they became like family.”

Now, she says, Elias is just like any other little boy. He babbles constantly, loves animals, and adores his big brother, Henry.

In June Elias and his family attended the 39th annual NICU reunion on our Oakland campus to celebrate with his care team. More than 600 NICU graduates and their loved ones were in attendance, enjoying carnival-style fun like a bounce house, balloon animals, face painting.

“His nurses were surprised to see how big he was. They couldn’t believe it was him,” Gabriela says.

Looking back on her son’s first year, she feels extremely lucky. “His doctors said it was a miracle he was alive,” she says. “To know I have my baby thanks to them is such a blessing.”

Learn more about our NICU, or donate to help save the lives of kids like Elias.

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