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UCSD's Littlest Grads Gather to
Celebrate the Miracle of Life and Hot Dogs

By Jeffree Itrich | July 26, 2006

Apple Dance
Girls' performance of the Little Apples Dance

The sun was blazing hot but that did not deter nearly 200 children from running all over De Anza Cove, as children often do on a hot summer day, in pursuit of the next eye-catching distraction. On July 15 more than 400 people, including scores of “Little Grads, former patients of the Infant Special Care Center (ISCC) at the UCSD Medical Center, gathered for a reunion picnic on Mission Bay.

Each year, the ISCC holds the picnic former patients, their families and staff to see one another and rejoice in the miracle of survival. Many families who live out of state schedule annual vacations to San Diego to attend the picnic. Nearly all the children were born premature, some as small as one pound or less. Others were born with life-threatening conditions but survived because of modern medicine, spending many long weeks and months living in the unit. Parents made the unit their primary home as they waited, watched and prayed for their children to grow and become healthy enough to go home. Children at the picnic ranged in age from infants to 22 years of age.

Barbara Mora and Daughter
Barbara Mora and her daughter

“This event provides an opportunity for families to see staff that cared for their little ones, and for the staff to see how the children have grown from their early premature weights,” says Dr. Neil Finer, director of the Division of Neonatology. “It also allows families who got to know one another in the unit during long and difficult days to catch up on each other’s progress. It’s really a fabulous event.”

The annual picnic featured a hot dog barbecue and child-centered activities such as face and nail painting, temporary tattoos, coloring by Toys R Us, an inflatable jump house, building kits and mini aprons provided by Home Depot, a scrap-booking table, a costume “dress-up” booth, Geoffrey the Giraffe, Honey Bee the Clown, Friar and the Pad Squad (Padres), McGruff from the Sheriff’s Dept, and an ambulance. Each Little Grad, regardless of age, received a complimentary Little Grad t-shirt. The day was highlighted by a special family.

In the fall of 2004, Angela Amoroso-Skinner gave birth 14 weeks early to a baby girl. She and husband, Drew, laughed when they learned Isabella’s state-of-the-art incubator was called a Giraffe bed because Drew stands 6’8” tall and during Amoroso-Skinner’s pregnancy she often told people she was going to give birth to a giraffe.

Sensing the coincidence meant they were supposed to help other tiny babies, two days after Isabella was born the Skinners established Isabella’s Giraffe Club to help buy one of the incubator beds for the ISCC. The bed is height-adjustable with humidity for extremely premature infants.

 “When we found out the state of the art incubator was called a Giraffe,” recalls Amoroso-Skinner, “the Giraffe Club was born. I like to find meaning in everything I experience and I needed a reason for us to be in that ISCC, something bigger than the fact that we had just birthed the tiniest baby we had ever seen.”

Near Christmas they took little Isabella home. A few days later she died of SIDS.

Angela Amoroso-Skinner and Cheque
Angela & Drew presents a cheque to Jan Hebert

Rather than give in to their grief, the Skinners focused on raising funds for Isabella’s Giraffe Club. Amoroso-Skinner, who owns the Scripps Performing Arts Centre, began to set aside proceeds from every dance performance.  The Skinner family presented a check at the picnic following a dance performance by The Little Apples, dance students from the Scripps Performing Arts Centre children’s dance group. But the story does not end there; the fundraising continues. As of end of July, the Giraffe Club has raised $19,000 and is still growing, just like a baby giraffe.


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