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"I opened the doors:" A look back at two special babies

Of the thousands of babies cared for at the neonatal intensive care unit at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital since its opening in 1991, someone had to be the first. Enter twins Haley and Hal Bidelman, born 13 weeks early on June 4, 1991, and cared for at Stanford Hospital & Clinics until the NICU at Packard Children’s was launched six weeks later. Both twins still have tiny t-shirts that say "I opened the doors."

Now, as the twins celebrate their 20th birthday, the hospital has a birthday to celebrate, too. The first Packard Children's patients arrived June 10, 1991. The first NICU babies – including Haley, Hal and a handful of others – were wheeled over from Stanford Hospital on July 15.

The setup at Packard Children's was unusual. At the time, few children's hospitals offered services in obstetrics or newborn care. Being one of the first children's hospitals with a NICU positioned Packard Children's to become a national leader in neonatology.

Looking back, Debi Bidelman, Haley and Hal's mom, has poignant memories of the early days with her tiny, fragile twins. "The staff at the NICU was just phenomenal," Debi said recently. "They were just very comforting. The most memorable thing was, I remember not feeling afraid. I felt that my kids were going to make it – I had no doubt."

And make it they did. Haley and Hal both recently completed their first year of study at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif. Hal wants to go into robotics and computer science. He's also a trombone player who recently volunteered with the jazz festival in Sacramento. Haley is taking course work to qualify for studies in nursing.

"I've always liked helping people out, taking care of people," said Haley, explaining why she wants to enter the profession. She hopes to someday work in an emergency room.

William Benitz, MD, now chief of the Packard Children's neonatology team that cares for more than 1,000 premature babies a year, was one of the physicians who helped bring the Bidelman twins through the NICU doors 20 years ago. "To realize that the kids we treated as preemies are out living their lives reaffirms how special our work is," Benitz told me. "And it makes us extraordinarily proud of what we do."

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, which opened its doors on June 10, 1991. Each Friday in June, we’ll take a look at the hospital's first two decades.

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