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  • Grace Cerkoney visits the NICU that saved her life on Dec. 6, 2013 - her fourth birthday.

    Grace Cerkoney visits the NICU that saved her life on Dec. 6, 2013 - her fourth birthday.

    Former NICU baby celebrates healthy fourth birthday

    Celebrations include a trip to the hospital that saved her life

    by Halley Knigge

    Every year on Dec. 6, Megan Kirkhart and her daughter Grace Cerkoney make a special trip to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital.

    They say hello to the nurses, and then Kirkhart looks for the parents – there caring for their critically ill infants.

    “If there are any parents in there, I look at them and I smile,” she says. “I say ‘I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but I was you.’”

    Four years ago, Kirkhart was one of those parents – exhausted, terrified and feeling helpless as she made her own daily visits to the NICU. Her own daughter Grace was born three months premature in December 2009, and turned Kirkhart’s world upside-down.

    “I remember this like it was yesterday,” she says. “I was leaving the NICU, standing at the lockers. It was probably still December or January and I remember this mom bringing in this beautiful little blonde girl.”

    Kirkhart overheard the woman introducing her daughter – she, too, had started her life in the NICU, and was back to visit in honor of her eighth birthday.

    “I remember feeling this warm hope just wash over me like a golden wave. I mean, I know it’s the No. 1 neonatal intensive care unit in the area, but in the beginning, not knowing. I just felt this wave of ‘it’s going to be okay,’” she said.

    “So now I do it because I want to do that for other parents. I want them to understand that ‘right now you’re worried, but these are some of the best medical professionals in our area and it’s going to be okay. Even if it’s not okay, it’s going to be okay.’”

    Grace spent the first six months of her life in and out of hospitals – first the NICU, and then Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.

    Now she’s in preschool, and turned 4 years old this December. Despite some health challenges, Kirkhart says Grace is the “happiest kid.” She’s happy, smiling and beautiful – and loves to show off her old scars.

    “I look at her picture and think about everything she’s gone through and I think God put her here for a purpose,” says Kirkhart. “Everything happens for a reason. Thank God we had these amazing nurses and doctors and specialists.”

    “I’m so thankful. I’m so, so thankful that we had the care we did.”

    Resources for parents

    Learn more about the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

    Learn more about giving birth at Tacoma General Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, or Auburn Medical Center.

    If you're pregnant (or thinking about becoming pregnant), find a physician.

    More stories from the NICU:

    Mom credits Tacoma General NICU staff with daughter's life

    Moms choose Tacoma General for highest level of NICU baby care

    Gift from preemie's mother reminds NICU parents they're not alone

    Mom of healthy toddler thanks Tacoma General for life-saving care

    The Cotey Twins and Chase Xitco

    Posted on Dec 6, 2013 in Kids' Health