The most powerful thing about the reunion of children who'd spent time in MetroWest Medical Center's Special Care Nursery was simply seeing their nurses and doctors, and one another, again.
Pink frosting and mini-marshmallows were a powerful lure for 2-year-old Alyssa Curley.
An open door was a powerful attraction for toddler triplets from Mendon who kept their parents on alert.
The magician turning a white balloon into a dove was a powerful trick that brought gasps and applause.
But the most powerful thing about the reunion of children who'd spent time in MetroWest Medical Center's Special Care Nursery, and their families, was simply seeing their nurses and doctors, and one another, again.
And seeing how far the children had come.
"To hear parents say to their children, 'This is the one who saved your life,' that's powerful," Beth Donnelly, community relations director, said to Chief of Pediatrics Dr. Jerry Wortzman, at the end of Saturday morning's event.
"I think sometimes we don't stop to think of the impact we have on people," Wortzman said.
Which is the prime reason Jane White of Ashland brought her family back to the hospital.
"It's good (for staff members) to know they're remembered," said White, whose daughter, Cheyanne Carrasquillo, spent two weeks in the Special Care Nursery when she was born five years ago.
Weighing in at more than 10 pounds, Cheyanne didn't look like most of the infants who spend time in the Special Care Nursery because they're too small to be sent home. "The wonderful doctors here picked up right away she wasn't breathing right," said White.
"We take care of babies who unexpectedly run into problems at birth," said Dr. Bertha Kao, Special Care Nursery director.
While many are premature, Special Care Nursery babies also include those with diabetes or congenital defects, and those weaning off drugs in the mother's system, said nurse manager Debbie Durgin.
The Level II nursery opened in 1974 and affiliated with Children's Hospital in 2000. It is now a Level IIB center, which provides all the services of a top-level neonatal intensive care unit except ventilator care.
"The purpose is to keep babies close to home," rather than have them at a Boston hospital, Durgin said.
"It's really hard to go back and forth to Boston when someone at home needs you," said Deb Hurowitz of Framingham, whose daughter, 6-month-old Sophia "got out about five months ago,"' and whose older son was also born prematurely.
"It was stressful" when Peter, 4, was born with pneumonia and had to spend a week in the MetroWest Medical facility, said father Paul Smith, "but the fact we were so close to home made it less stressful." Particularly with a 14-month-old daughter, Ella, at home in Framingham, said Heather Smith.
"You could check on them at 1 o'clock in the morning," said Karen Coutu, whose 2-year-old twins, Luke and Makenzie, were born nine weeks prematurely.
"There was always someone here you could call by name" who could give an update about the babies' conditions, said Todd Coutu of Framingham.
"We practically lived here," said Marlborough's P.J. Curley, whose daughter, Alyssa, was also a preemie.
"We got a lot of hands-on training and a lot of support," said Beth Brennan, Mendon mother of 15-month-old triplets Matthew, Connor and Gavin.
"Some kids, they go through so much right from the beginning. It's good to see how well they're doing," said Nora Scharf, clinical specialist for the hospital's maternity department.
But going through rough times isn't the way Ana Alonso of Marlborough remembers it. After difficulties in carrying a baby to term, "it was a pleasure just to see her," when daughter Anna was born three years ago, even if she did have to spend two months at the Floating Hospital in Boston, followed by two weeks in Framingham.
"It's amazing," said Dr. Kao, as she surveyed the scene of more than 100 children, plus parents, siblings and grandparents, who turned out for events that included cookie decorating and a show by magician Bonaparte.
"It's great to see them all happy, healthy, and out of the hospital. And growing. They grow so quickly."
For some, like 2-month-old Isaac and David Fabrini of Framingham, it wasn't so long ago they were in incubators like the one on display in the lobby of the Medical Arts Center.
For others, it had been awhile, and parents thought it might be a learning experience for the kids to see the high-tech bassinets that kept them alive.
"You guys were in a thing just like this when you were little," Tracey Bonina of Milford told 3-year-old daughters Camille and Grace as they peered at the swaddled doll in the incubator.
There were many powerful reasons why people attended yesterday's reunion for those who'd been patients at any point in the past nine years.
The lure of free bike helmets was an added incentive for Paul Gleason of Millis, whose 5-year-old son Shea is an alumnus.
Bonina hoped seeing that the hospital could be a fun place would help ease Camille's apprehension about medical visits.
But there was one fundamental reason so many families took perfectly healthy kids to the hospital on a sunny Saturday, and one fundamental reason staff and several retirees turned out for the event.
"You see them when they're 2, 3 pounds, and now they're running around ..." said nurse Sharon Donovan.
That's powerful stuff indeed.
Julia Spitz can be reached at 508-626-3968 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check metrowestdailynews.com or milforddailynews.com for the Spitz Bits blog.