By Jennifer Silverstein

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. As a way to recognize this in our community, Brandon Regional Hospital, located at 119 Oakfield Dr. in Brandon, is hosting two events this month.

“Having a community ceremony, where families with like losses can come together, share their stories and grieve has been very beneficial to the healing process,” said Jill Lansky, Physician Relations director.

“A NICU reunion/fall festival [will be held], which is a celebration for all our families who have been impacted by and tenderly cared for in our NICU,” Lansky explained.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) reunion and fall festival will take place on Saturday, November 3, from 9:30-11 a.m. in Ste. 260 (Classroom B) in Oakfield Medical Plaza across from the street from the Hospital. Periodically, the NICU reunion has celebrated for the over 15 years but became an annual event about five years ago, according to Bonnie Guagliardo.

The Baby Suites at Brandon Regional has delivered over 80,000 babies since 1983 and has provided NICU services since the OB services inception. The Women’s Center has served the community and the surrounding areas for 29 years, including Polk and Manatee County.

Brandon Regional Hospital is a Level IIIA NICU, which means that it can provide comprehensive care for infants under 28 weeks gestation and under three lbs., 2 oz. birth weight. It can also provide advanced care including respiratory, imaging, surgical, and specialty support for any newborn requiring specialized care and services.

There will be face painting, games, crafts, refreshments and a complimentary family photo. Parents are encouraged to bring the kids in costume since it is the week of Halloween.

“The staff has been a big part of the beginning of these infants and families’ lives so we consider this event a family reunion which allows everyone to renew this special bond,” said Guagliardo. “The entire family is invited to attend this special event to celebrate the miracle of life. “

Join the physicians and nurses of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for this morning of fun family activities.  Call to RSVP at 653-1065 or at

A Remembrance Ceremony, to be held on Monday, October 15, which is also National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. It will be held at 6:40 p.m. in Adam’s Garden, a garden located on the hospital grounds near the Women’s Center parking garage across from Bank of America.

The first Remembrance Ceremony took place in 2007 and in 2008, Adam’s Garden came to be.

The garden came about as a collaboration between Laurie VanDamme, the perinatal bereavement coordinator for the hospital, and the wife of then hospital CEO Mike Fencel, Jami.

The ceremony is a time for parents and family members to publicly remember and honor their baby. It’s also an opportunity to come together as members of the community and show support as each and every life and loss experienced is validated.

For the purposes of the program at Brandon Regional, a perinatal loss is any loss occurring in pregnancy.

There are families who experience an ectopic pregnancy loss at seven weeks, and those who lose their babies at 41 weeks gestation. All are included in our program, although the majority fall between the 15-32 week range.

“Few parents who experience a loss at 6-10 weeks want a tile in the garden; however, no one is turned away and every loss is considered significant,” VanDamme said.

Brandon Regional sees approximately 70-80 losses per year.

“This night is very special not only for the families and members of our community, but also for the staff and nurses in Women’s Center in particular, many who have worked very closely and even shared tears with these families,” said VanDamme. “It’s a special time of remembering and grieving, of gratitude and comfort, and for many, it offers a sense of peace and closure.”

At 7 p.m., a nationwide candle lighting and a brief moment of silence take place. This year, a special guest musician will perform a rendition of Amazing Grace following the candle lighting.

Perhaps the most anticipated part of the ceremony, said VanDamme, is immediately following the ceremony itself when parents and family members make their way to the garden’s centerpiece to see and touch their baby’s ceramic tile that has become a permanent marker and public validation of his/her existence.

Visit For more information on VanDamme and her other efforts on behalf of perinatal loss, please visit

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Jennifer is the Assistant Editor at the Osprey Observer, having climbed the corporate ladder from intern in 2007. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications. She lives in Channing Park with her husband, Eric, and their two dogs.