“Cowboys are strong, tough men,” says Karina on choosing the theme for her son Aiden’s half birthday. It’s a fitting portrayal for the baby buckaroo who has overcome a birthweight of 1.75 pounds and ridden on a helicopter before a horse.
Since arriving in the Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital neonatal intensive care unit from Sarasota Memorial five months ago, Aiden has undergone seven surgeries for necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC — a serious disease that affects the intestines of premature infants. But today is a happy day. He’s officially 6 months old and although he can’t eat cupcakes, Aiden’s mom has plenty for his nurses, who don tiny cowboy hats and sing Happy Birthday.
Karina loves to celebrate all of Aiden’s milestones with special outfits. “He’s had such a rough start. Every little thing is important to us,” she says of her Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas reindeer, and Valentine’s cupid. She’s already planning his St. Patrick’s Day leprechaun outfit and searching online for his Easter bunny suit.
Since his birth, Karina hasn’t been apart from Aiden for more than eight hours. She leaves his room to sleep in the Ronald McDonald House adjacent to the hospital and cherishes the visits from her husband and mother.
“His nurses are so great to him. I know when I go downstairs, they love him as their own,” Karina says. She’s excited about his 1-year birthday and beams when talking about family arriving from out of state and a planned mariachi band. “It’s gonna be a big one.”
As the vaccine comes to the frontline workers, a world of possibilities begins to open up.
For Gavin, the hospital isn’t all about challenges and adversity. It’s about giving joy to others.
The holidays she has altered to care for kids are too many to count, but as she retires, she leaves much for patients and colleagues to be thankful.
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