PHOTOS: Houston hospital throws adorable graduation ceremony for smallest baby it’s ever delivered

After 140 days in the NICU, baby Samuel is headed home!

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Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital

Samuel Gonzalez

HOUSTON, Texas – When Samuel Gonzalez was born on March 25, 2021 weighing in at less than a pound at 26 weeks, parents Susana and Adalberto didn’t know what to think.

Baby Samuel was delivered early due to a placental issue. He wasn’t getting enough nutrition and his heart rate began to drop, leading to the decision by the delivery team to enact a C-section. Although it was only 2016 that the hospital started keeping records on newborn weights, Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital believes his is the smallest baby they have ever delivered.

After 140 days in a steep uphill battle that had the entire staff pitching in to help, Samuel is finally cleared to go home with his family within the next few days. Yesterday on August 11, the NICU threw a “graduation ceremony” to celebrate the end of Samuel’s journey, complete with cake, decorations, and a cap and gown for the tiny graduate himself. On the windows of the hospital room is an arresting illustration of Winnie the Pooh, one of many artworks on display throughout the wing.

“The windows are very special to me,” said Cyndi Shelby, the multi-talented nurse behind the creations. “I had a 24 week ‘preemie’ myself and she was in the hospital for many months, and hospitals are not the most celebratory of places sometimes. They can look very sterile, and I wanted to bring a little bit of happiness to the patients and to their families and to make it a little bit more at home.”

Nurse Cyndi Shelby is known by the hospital for her artistry, decorating all the NICU’s doors and windows with heartwarming illustrations in an effort to make the wing feel more homey. She puts special thought into each piece, changing them for holidays and to reflect the stories of the patients. For example, in a room hosting twins with, she painted Dr. Seuss’ Thing 1 and Thing 2. Samuel’s moving Winnie the Pooh display read, “Only look back to see how far you’ve come,” in honor of Samuel’s progress.

“It’s just my way of giving a little something to the parents to make them have a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.” Cyndi stated in a video of her standing next to the window.

Samuel’s parents were moved by the celebration put on for their son, and expressed many thanks to the NICU staff, calling them guardian angels through the rollercoaster that has been the past five months.

“It’s just crazy -- the etiquette, the consistency, the passion is just, it’s amazing to see that. I couldn’t thank everybody enough.” Adalberto Gonzalez said, standing proudly next to his wife and her son in a video taken during the graduation.

Samuel is expected to be discharged from the NICU on August 13 or August 16, his weight now a healthy seven pounds and 11.7 ounces.