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MILLCREEK — Nearly two dozen portraits of former neonatal intensive care unit patients are now hanging in a special hallway at St. Mark's Hospital.
The photo display, known as the "Hall of Hope," was unveiled Wednesday and showcases pictures of the young patients holding a photo of themselves when they were in the NICU. Many spent days, weeks or months after birth developing in the unit. The portraits in the hospital display were taken by photographer Randy Despain, owner of Dezember Photography.
The goal of the project is to give hope to current and future NICU parents during a very challenging time watching their sick infants work to get healthy.
Ali and Stephen Thorpe, who live in Sandy, are the parents of three boys who graduated from the NICU at St. Mark's Hospital in just the past five years.
It's safe to say the birth of their first son didn't go as expected, and that was the general theme from then on.
In 2017, at 28 weeks pregnant, Ali Thorpe gave birth to a 2-pound baby boy they named Sawyer.
"He was so tiny," she explained. "To watch a translucent little child fight for their life every day is something … I can't really describe the feelings that come with it."
After spending 66 total days in the NICU, Sawyer was finally able to go home.
Then, in 2019, Ali and Stephen Thorpe were back at St. Mark's Hospital for another unexpected stay in the NICU with their second baby, Tanner. Tanner was born at 37 weeks.
"He had respiratory problems," Ali Thorpe said. "His problems were different than Sawyer's. He was larger, but really struggled breathing."
After a two-week stay, the two-time NICU parents brought their second son home.
"They wouldn't be here without the NICU staff."— Ashley Moser (@AshleyMoser) September 30, 2021
Three babies, three NICU stays.
At 10:00, hear from a mother whose stories are featured in @StMarksHosp "Hall of Hope" unveiled today.
Her message to other parents who may find themselves in a similar situation @KSL5TVpic.twitter.com/gIm2AM3nVY
And in January, Thorpe gave birth to the couple's third NICU son, Parker. She was also 37 weeks pregnant at the time she delivered.
By this time – with three separate NICU stays under their belt – the couple was experienced. The parents had a better idea of the roller coaster of emotions that inevitably come with time spent in the NICU for families.
"We knew what to expect, which can be a good and a bad thing," she added, saying they now had a better idea of the challenges they'd face ahead.
Although each circumstance was difficult, the couple says they were glad to have that knowledge with their second and third sons.
"It was hard, but we knew about all the wires and tubes," Thorpe said.
All three of the Thorpe boys are celebrated in the new hallway display.
"It's just so emotional to see," Thorpe said.
The couple said having their boys' photo on the wall is evidence they've made it. They survived.
And, not only is it meaningful for them to see their children's growth, but they said it means so much that they can give other families hope – to let families know they are not alone.
"These families will get through this," Thorpe said.
So far this year, St. Mark's Hospital has treated over 240 NICU patients.
Dr. Justin Stiers, a neonatologist who has worked at the hospital for the past six years, remembers all of the Thorpe boys.
"It's really nice to reconnect with these patients and families. These families – whether they stay with us for three days or 100 days – become part of our family," Stiers said.
St. Mark's Hospital admits between 300-400 NICU babies every year.
Since opening the NICU in 1997, St. Mark's Hospital has treated over 8,000 NICU babies.