After years of wondering, NICU nurses reunite with former patient

After years of wondering, neonatal nurses reunite with former patient

Rosalio Garcia is greeted by neonatal nurse Kathy Joscher, one of the 14 nurses who took care of him 18 years ago. Rosalio spent more than two months in St. Mary’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit after he was born prematurely in 1998.



Rosalio Garcia holds a picture of himself from 1998 while he was in the NICU at St. Mary’s Hospital. In April, Rosalio reunited with a number of the nurses who cared for him. He weighed 1 pound, 13.36 ounces, when he was born after the death of his mother, who had a heart attack while undergoing an operation related to breast cancer.



Rosalio Garcia looks at the incubater he occupied while in the NICU at St. Mary’s Hospital as a premature baby in 1998. Technology has advanced in the past 18 years and the incubater is now part of a display in a hallway.



Rosalio Garcia looks at a picture of himself that hangs on a wall in the NICU at St. Mary’s Hospital. Meanwhile, some of the nurses who took care of him 18 years ago look at a photo album he brought with him while visiting his infant cousin, who recently also was cared for in the NICU.



Rosalio Garcia’s cousin hands his son, Guillermo, to Rosalio during a visit to the NICU. The infant Guillermo was able to leave St. Mary’s a few days after Rosalio’s visit in April.



Some of the 14 nurses who are still working in St. Mary’s Hospital’s NICU and cared for Rosalio Garcia 18 years ago, look at his baby album.



Rosalio Garcia is shown at 32 days old with his aunt, Gloria Barba, who raised him as her son.



Rosalio Manuel de Jesus Garcia is shy around strangers. He gets that from his father.

So, on April 25, when Rosalio walked into St. Mary’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and saw more than a dozen women with arms wide open, some crying tears of joy, Rosalio was quiet and a bit overwhelmed by the number of nurses who wanted to hug him and just look in his eyes.

“I asked him if he was nervous,” Samantha Garcia said, remembering the conversation she had with her cousin as the pair drove from Olathe to Grand Junction for that late-April reunion at St. Mary’s. “He said, ‘No. I’m excited to meet the people who helped me get where I am.’ “

Born on March 2, 1998, Rosalio weighed 1 pound, 13.36 ounces, and measured 13.5 inches long. He spent more than two months in the NICU under the watchful eyes of nearly 30 nurses, 14 of whom still work in the unit.

Photographs and stories are the only memories Rosalio, 18, has of his time in the NICU.

But the nurses remember him. They will never forget.

Rosalio’s mother, Rosa Garcia, had been pregnant with Rosalio for just 25 weeks when she died after a heart attack while undergoing an operation related to breast cancer. Doctors had no choice but to deliver Rosalio, said Gloria Barba, Rosalio’s aunt, fighting back tears during a May interview.

Rosalio was named after his mom.

Sitting in the family’s Olathe home where Rosalio grew up alongside his biological sister, April, and Guillermo and Gloria Barba’s four children, Gloria recalled the conversations she had with Rosa during the months before her death. Rosa knew she was going to die from cancer and asked Gloria to “take care of my babies.”

Gloria responded with, “My pleasure.”

‘EL PEQUEÑO TORO’

For a child to lose a mother is heartbreaking. For a 25-week-old baby to lose a mother while fighting for survival pulled at every maternal heartstring in the NICU nurses.

“Our heart went out to him because he lost his mother and his father was just a cowboy with no idea what to do with a tiny little baby,” said Kathy Joscher, a NICU nurse at St. Mary’s for more than 19 years. She was a relatively new full-time addition to the unit when Rosalio was born.

Jesus Garcia, Rosalio’s father and Gloria’s brother, was grieving the loss of his wife and facing the overwhelming task of caring for a premature infant and a daughter.

The nurses taught Jesus how to hold and feed his 1-pound son. They fought over who got to care for Rosalio. Despite his underdeveloped organs, Rosalio, “el pequeño toro” — “the little bull” — grew stronger every day.

Rosalio was discharged on Mother’s Day in 1998, a date not lost on the NICU nurses.

There wasn’t a dry eye, they said. They hung a picture of Rosalio in the NICU.

“We always wondered about him,” Joscher said.

Guillermo remembers doctors advising the family of the special attention and care Rosalio needed — because Rosalio was born so prematurely, he was at risk for respiratory problems, autism, cerebral palsy and a number of other issues related to having a weakened immune system. Guillermo also remembers thinking that special treatment wouldn’t be possible with other small children at home.

But Rosalio was brought home to a tight-knit family and thrived. Gloria cared for Rosalio much of the time, and he didn’t get sick. His development wasn’t slowed.

When Rosalio was a toddler, Jesus brought the boy for a visit to the NICU — the nurses love to see all their patients as they grow — and he was doing great, but that was the last they heard from the family.

“We saw him for that brief little time and didn’t see him again,” Joscher said. “We just wondered how he continued to grow because it was just a miracle.”

 

‘A TIGHT UNIT’

Unfortunately, when Rosalio was 7, Jesus was killed in an accident. Guillermo and Gloria don’t know all the details, only that Jesus, an experienced horseman, appeared to have been bucked off a horse, hit his head and was stepped on.

Gloria, whom Rosalio already called mother, and Guillermo became full-time parents to Rosalio and April.

“The faith has given us a strong family,” Guillermo said of how the family pulled through.

It took a few years for Rosalio to call his uncle “dad,” but now he does it naturally.

“When he was little, always when he came here he would run to the fridge and start to eat,” Guillermo said. “He said he would feel good when he came here. He felt like it was his home here.”

“We have always been a tight unit,” said Janalyn Barba, 16, Guillermo and Gloria’s youngest child. “We look at each other as siblings. All six of us have always been super close.”

But through it all Rosalio continued to grow and thrive. Rosalio became an athlete at Olathe High School, participating in track, football and wrestling. In May, he graduated with an eye on college.

 

‘I’M SO HAPPY’

When Melisa and Guillermo Barba — Guillermo and Gloria’s eldest son — found themselves in St. Mary’s NICU in April with their first son, Guillermo, word spread that these were relatives of Rosalio.

A reunion was scheduled, and the nurses learned more about Rosalio’s life, particularly about the death of his father.

When Rosalio walked through the door to the NICU at the end of April, he was greeted with smiles and tears.

He brought his baby book for the nurses to see. They relived the care Rosalio received. They marveled at the young man he has become.

“He’s just doing so great,” Joscher said. “I’m so happy and excited that he turned out as well as he did with no deficits, whatsoever. He’s just a miracle.”

He is strong like his father, Gloria said.

This fall, Rosalio plans to move to Gunnison to attend Western State Colorado University, where he wants to walk-on to the football team as a kicker and possibly study criminal justice.

Gloria said she has always felt like Rosalio was her son. So just like any mother, she’s proud and excited for him to head off to school, but she’s worried because he’s leaving home.

Rosalio smiled. He’s ready to go, but at the same time he isn’t.

“He’ll be back here once a week,” said his cousin Guillermo.

“He’ll come back to pick a fight,” Janalyn added.

 

‘IT’S OK’

Rosalio said there were times not long ago when he would think about his life, the loss of both his parents, and look toward heaven to ask, “Why me?”

Actually, it was “plenty of times,” he admitted.

Then, during Rosalio’s sophomore year at Olathe, a group of students who had lost a family member got together to talk through their shared heartbreaks and participated in fun activities as a group.

“That kind of helped me out just to understand that it’s OK,” Rosalio said.


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