Appeared in: The Orange County Register

family with baby

Terri Harrison couldn’t help but give her patient, Juliana Alfieri, another hug as they chatted in a hospital room days after the birth of Alfieri’s son.

It was, more or less, a homecoming for Alfieri, who was the first baby admitted in May 1988 to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at what is now the Women’s Hospital at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center.

She was born three months premature, weighing only three pounds, five ounces, and spent nearly two months in the NICU unit before her parents, John and Maria Yanez, could take her home.

“There were a lot of medical problems that occurred because she was so small,” Yanez recalled.

This past weekend, 29 years later, Alfieri, of Laguna Hills, was back at the hospital to have her first child. Luca Giovanni Alfieri was born to Alfieri and her husband, Gary, at 4:10 p.m. Dec. 16. He weighed eight pounds, 15 ounces.

Luca, too, was taken to the NICU, needing closer observation. Harrison, a staff nurse at the hospital since it opened, was the one who admitted Alfieri back in 1988. She was also the nurse who returned Luca to the Alfieris, which set off a series of questions before Harrison figured out the connection.

“I was your nurse!” she told Alfieri.

“I had always wondered if she still worked here,” Alfieri said Tuesday, Dec. 19. “But I knew he was in good hands because they took good care of me, too.”

Yanez said she also felt that support when she gave birth to her daughter.

Yanez recalled that she had just picked up her husband from John Wayne Airport on May 16, 1988 when she started experiencing labor pains on the I-405 Freeway as they headed home to Lake Forest.

“We knew there was a women’s hospital, but we didn’t know if it was open or not,” she said.

They found the hospital, arriving just in time for its first day.

“We had just opened at 7 a.m., it was me and one other nurse,” Harrison said. “We were just rearranging and stocking supplies when (Yanez) came in.”

Less than three hours later, Juliana was born, and her worried mother was assured by the nursing staff that the new center had a fully operational neonatal unit to care for the baby’s health issues.

“They were absolutely amazing,” Yanez said. “After she was born, the care she got and the support my family got from them in every aspect was exceptional.”

The staff allowed 2-year-old brother Mark to put on scrubs and a mask and walk into the NICU to check on his little sister.

“They would sneak him in,” Alfieri said. “He loved being a big brother.”

Yanez said she was amazed to discover that some of the same staff members still worked at the Women’s Hospital. After meeting with some of them, including Harrison, she brought in old photo albums with a few photos from the hospital.

The Alfieris didn’t want to make a big deal about returning to the hospital to deliver their baby, but did tell two staff members that Alfieri was the first baby in the NICU in 1988.

“Before we knew it, we were flooded with visitors,” Gary Alfieri said, noting approximately 20 staff members cycled through to meet the couple.

The hospital has been renovated and upgraded with new equipment since it opened in 1988, but the staff has remained dedicated to its patients, Harrison said.

The hospital, which serves all of south Orange County, will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2018.

“Through my eyes, I feel it’s all the same,” Harrison said. “I’ve been blessed with good health and I love what I do, there’s so much privilege and reward.”

Yanez said that seeing the same faces nearly 30 years later gave her piece of mind.

“When Luca had to go to the NICU, we weren’t even freaked out about it because we know, we trust he was in excellent hands,” she said.