Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the Bryans' last name.
Though the waiting room was lit only by cloudy sunlight, flames from chafing dish burners and lights from a blue-and-white Christmas tree, it was likely the brightest spot Tuesday in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Medical College of Georgia Children’s Medical Center.
Medical students from the 2013-16 classes, along with employees, churches and residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, donated thousands of dollars in cash and a few thousand more in gift cards, clothing and toys for siblings to make Christmas a little brighter for families of the unit’s 42 patients.
The event was organized by unit social worker Cara Bryan and her husband, fourth-year medical student Cory Bryan.
Bryan e-mailed a few of her husband’s classmates and quickly planned the event. As word spread, donations poured in. By 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, about a dozen family members were enjoying lunch and socializing.
It seemed to be exceeding Bryan’s expectations.
“Honestly, I thought it would just be a few people coming in and out,” she said. “I didn’t think it would be this many people but we wanted it to be available in case there were (more).”
A portion of the cash donations were used to provide the meal. The rest went into providing each family with a gift box containing baby items such as bath kits, clothing, washcloths and blankets.
They were also given a $25 Kroger gift card that could be used for either gas or groceries, which Bryan said are usually the families’ biggest needs.
One present purchased was an activity center for 7-month-old Ziare Hull.
Ziare has been a patient in the neonatal unit since May 20, the day after he was born without a rectum and with a disconnected esophagus and trachea.
The Hull family came to Augusta from Athens, Ga., for Ziare’s surgery and treatment. His father, Terance Hull, said the Christmas gifts save money for him and Ziare’s mother, Leandra Curtis, which is helpful because both lost their jobs in the months since Ziare’s birth. They have been living at the Ronald McDonald House since May.
“It’s really nice of them,” Hull said.
The event was also a welcome respite for Kelby Nero and his family.
His daughter, Destiny, was was born prematurely Aug. 4 at University Hospital. At only 26 weeks and weighing 1 pound, 9 ounces, Destiny had a lot of complications and came close to death on five occasions before transferring to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Nero said.
He and his wife call Destiny their miracle baby, because it was only through discovering she was pregnant that Nero’s wife, Kimberly Nero, discovered her only kidney had failed.
Nero said that although they weren’t able to do as much for Christmas this year as they had planned, the party in the neonatal unit made the day much more special. The couple had no desire to be anywhere else for Christmas.
“We just wanted to be with (Destiny) today,” he said. “It’s her first Christmas. We wanted to be here.”