“We owe our lives to Riley”




NICU grads, families and team members donned capes and costumes as they gathered this weekend for the first NICU Superhero Fun Walk.

By Maureen Gilmer, Riley Children’s Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Superheroes of all shapes and sizes spilled out onto the grounds of Riley Hospital for Children this weekend to celebrate Riley’s first NICU Superhero Fun Walk.

Part-reunion and part-fundraiser organized by the NICU Nest team to benefit the Riley Children’s Foundation, the event brought caped crusaders – aka parents, grandparents, former patients, siblings and team members – together Saturday for games, music and a chance to reconnect with those who walked their NICU journey.

“We owe our lives to Riley,” Courtney Hamil said, as she and husband Zach corralled their three kids near the IU Health LifeLine ambulance across the street from the hospital.

Ari Hamil, 7 months, spent a week in the NICU after he was born, and both parents remember how the team not only took excellent care of Ari, but of their whole family. Part of that care included books created for siblings Calvin and Hadley to help them understand why their brother was in the hospital. Calvin was particularly interested in an incubator on display at the event, which he decided must be a greenhouse.

“We’re just incredibly grateful,” Zach said.

Liz Nedza knows the feeling well. After spending months in the neonatal intensive care unit with her son, Nicholas, who was born three months early, she was looking forward to Saturday’s event with her parents and her husband, Kory, but her emotions got the better of her.

“I got out of the car and just started bawling,” Nedza said. “I feel so blessed to be able to bring Nicholas back here, not just because he is no longer a patient but to be here to celebrate him and every person here. This place is so special to us.”

When Elly Schroeder learned about the superhero-themed event, she knew her family had to be here.

Daughter Margo was discharged from the Riley NICU earlier this year on National Superhero Day, a day when professional window washers dressed as superheroes entertained Riley patients while rappelling down the building.

On Saturday, young Margo was mostly oblivious to what was going on around her, but her big sister, Lillian, was rocking her Wonder Woman outfit as she took care of a baby doll at an education table staffed by child life specialists Amanda Banker and Gail Miller to teach kids about life in the NICU.

“Lilly has been a mommy and a nurse and a doctor at home,” said Elly Schroeder, whose husband, David, and son, Charlie, also were on hand.

And Charlie, who never got to come to the hospital to see his baby sister when she was in the NICU, was excited to see the place and the people who made baby Margo better.

“He always asks about it,” she said, “so to be part of this is cool.”

Elesia Hines, Riley NICU psychologist, said the event is an opportunity for families to come together to celebrate their children and find a measure of healing themselves.

“It’s amazing to see,” she said. “It’s wonderful for providers and families to see each other outside the hospital and celebrate all of the milestones.”

For those parents (or kids) who wanted to write a note to a special nurse, doctor or therapist, she had paper, pens and a Riley mailbox to make the job easier.

Dr. Deena Elsahy, a fellow in minimally invasive GYN surgery at Riley, knows that her 19-month-old twins, Yaseen and Ameen, are running and playing today because of the care they received in the Riley NICU in early 2022.

She and her husband, Dr. Nhany Elsahy, said their boys wouldn’t have survived “without all of the amazing people in the NICU.”

Perhaps the most senior provider attending Saturday’s festivities was Dr. Jim Lemons, who served as a neonatologist at Riley for more than four decades, including many years as director of the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine.

“Best day of the year,” he said as he surveyed the crowd with his wife, Pam, a longtime neonatal nurse practitioner.

Current division chief Dr. Laura Haneline couldn’t agree more.

“I’m so excited to see so many families here, and it reminds us why we do what we do every day,” she said.