Little Joana Roche scampered across the crowded hospital floor when she spotted Dr. Brad Peterson enter the room.
"Well, hi, Joana, you're looking really good," Peterson said when the little girl jumped into his arms. "Is that a Christmas present?" The 8-year-old replied by showing off her necklace of colored beads and explaining how good Santa had been. All the while, they smiled and laughed and hugged and kissed and chatted about whatever doctors and former patients talk about.
Joana and Peterson were brought together Friday when about 25 ex-patients of Children's Hospital and Health Center came back to see the doctors and nurses who helped save their lives. Former patients ranged from infants to teen-agers. They at some time had battled the odds in the hospital's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
Peterson, director of the unit, said, "It kind of chokes you up and makes you feel warm and good all over" when the once seriously ill youngsters return to the hospital healthy.
Peterson said that because the unit deals exclusively with extreme emergency cases, the patients are moved as soon as they begin to recover. Because of this, many staff members never get a chance to see the child again, Peterson said.
One child at Friday's reunion, 2-year-old Fawn Conard, had a close bout with death when she contracted a severe case of spinal meningitis a year and a half ago.
"We almost lost her a couple of times," her mother, Kelly Conard, said.
"The spinal meningitis really took over. They had her on a respirator and she had blood transfusions. But they brought her back to us. I can't say enough about this hospital.
"She had her first birthday in here, " the 29-year-old La Mesa woman added.
Fourteen-year-old Bobby Roche said that it's a "good feeling" to see his sister so healthy, running around and talking up a storm. In August, on the way to her friend's house, Joana ran in front of a car and sustained massive head injuries, which left her in a coma for six weeks.
"It was real scary," he said. "She was hit, and she was just laying there. I didn't know what was going on.
"I ran in the house and called the ambulance. My parents were at work." He said the whole ordeal made him really appreciate his baby sister.
Three-year-old Bryan Robertson, whose mother, Cheri, describes as a "happy, healthy child who is terrified of doctors and people in uniforms," attended the reunion while tugging on his grandmother's hand.
In 1983, a day-care center employee picked the child up and violently shook him for about two minutes. Two hours later, when his mother arrived to pick him up, Bryan went into a seizure. A blood clot had developed in his skull and as a result, "the whole left side of his body was paralyzed," his mother said.
While Bryan was recuperating, she said, a hospital employee walked up and told her that her child would never be normal again. But Peterson quickly responded to the statement: "This child is going to be our shining star. This kid is going do whatever he wants to do."
Today, Bryan can do just about anything he wants to do. The only scar that remains is split vision and a partially paralyzed left hand.
"He only sees the right side of the world," his mother explained.