Nearly 100 children and 200 of their guests attended the annual Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Reunion on Dec. 1 in the E. Brent Dufreche Conference Center on the North Oaks Medical Center campus in Hammond.

The free event was held for former NICU patients and their family members. It featured holiday storytelling, face painting, crafts and refreshments. Each graduate also received a keepsake photo with Santa Claus and a storybook through a partnership with the Hammond Kiwanis Club. Nearly 30 North Oaks Health System staff members volunteered their personal time to host the event.

Neonatologist Ivan Villalta and North Oaks Medical Center NICU staff members were among those greeting guests as they arrived.

“Dr. Villalta is wonderful,” said Richelle Dugas, of Ponchatoula, whose daughter Hope, now 16, spent three months in the NICU in 1996. “I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to have taken care of Hope.”

“It is always a joy to see how our former patients have grown,” said Kirsten Constantino, North Oaks Medical Center assistant vice president of Patient Services. “The reunion provides us the opportunity to visit with the children and their families and celebrate their achievements. We look forward to the event every year.”

For more information about North Oaks’ NICU or any of the health system’s services for women and children, call the North Oaks Marketing/Business Development Department at (985) 230-6647 or visit