NICU nurses help celebrate preemie's 1st birthday

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One year of life may not seem like a big milestone to some, but wishing her son Ryan a Happy Birthday meant the world to a Tampa Bay mom who could have lost him during the first months after his birth.

"He weighed one pound, seven ounces. He looked like a little tiny Jell-O mold, because he was red. He had translucent skin," said Healther Spradling.

Ryan Spradling, 1, came into the world at just 24 weeks old. He lived in the NICU at St Joseph's Women's Hospital in Tampa for the first four months of his life.

"It was ups and downs constantly," said Spradling, who is a nurse by trade.

"My knowledge of patients actually was a blessing and a curse, because I knew the complications, what could happen, what was happening," said Spradling.

Baby Ryan was hooked to a breathing tube and heart monitor. He had to undergo eight surgeries, mostly in his stomach. His mother said a group of dedicated registered nursed cared for him around the clock.

"His main issue was eating. He had many issues with tolerating feeding, something most of us take for granted. You pop the bottle in the baby's mouth, they eat. He had many struggles with that," explained Kristina Gunther, one of the RNs who looked after Ryan daily.

After 128 days, Ryan was finally health enough to be released from the hospital. Since going home, his mother said he has continued to thrived, reaching all of his age-appropriate milestones.

Spradling credits Ryan's skillful and caring nurses with saving his life. She chose to honor them by holding a birthday bash at the hospital Friday night.

"They were support; it was guidance, so I was able to have full trust and confidence," said Spradling.

At the party, nurses and Ryan's doctor took turns holding the bouncing baby, as he playfully chewed on their necklaces with his four sprouting teeth.

The medical staff said they don't always get to see how the babies they cared for progress once they leave the hospital.

"It gives me and so many of the people that work here so much joy to see how things have worked out after all our endeavors," said RN Felice Richardson.

"It's amazing. It makes all those long nights and all the days of stress worthwhile." Said Dr. Monisha Saste.

Spradling said as a nurse herself, she understood how the tireless work of medical professionals can go unnoticed. She wanted to show them, through her son, that what they are doing is meaningful.

"It's important for them to see when they have bad days that there are babies that make it through, and what they do does matter," said Spradling.