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Unger family grateful for support of local NBICU facility

Published 8/3/2011 in Pro-Am

By ANGIE HAFLICH

sports@gctelegram.com

Each year, the annual Southwest Kansas Pro-Am golf tournament raises thousands of dollars for St. Catherine Hospital's Newborn Intensive Care and Pediatric Units, and a "graduate" of the unit is chosen to give the winning golfer the $15,000 check. This year, that graduate is 5-year old Ethan Unger of Garden City.

Ethan was born five weeks premature, weighing only four pounds, seven ounces.

Cindy and her husband, Jeff, said it was extremely nerve-racking.

"Jeff was very scared, very nervous," Cindy said. "We have a picture of Jeff's hand to his elbow and Ethan wasn't even that big, His little legs were so skinny. His head you could totally cup it and a full-sized washcloth covered his entire body."

As a result of his small weight, there were obstacles that he had to overcome prior to being able to go home 10 days later."His biggest obstacles to get over were to eat on his own and to continually gain weight, to hold his own temperature," Cindy said. "For about the first five days he was continually losing weight (full-term newborns tend to lose weight) but premature babies need to gain because they don't have any extra calories to burn. At 35 weeks, babies don't always have a good sucking complex, so he didn't want to nurse or bottle feed. He was fed by what's called an NG tube, so he just took all of his calories that way."

He was able to go home after his weight got up to four pounds, 10 ounces.

Up until then, the most difficult thing for Cindy, was not being able to hold her first born son.

"When you're a new parent you might not understand why you can't hold your baby — it's a very hard concept — they try to explain that you don't want to burn calories especially when they're not really intaking calories. Touches, holding — that all burns calories. And so the goal is to intake calories and not burn them," she said.

It wasn't all bad to have the experience, though, because it gave the new parents time to learn about how to care for their child.

"Jeff and I always joke that at least you get a quick parent boot camp because they give you parenting 101 for a few days because they are basically there watching you, helping you. showing you," Cindy said.

Ethan has grown into a bright, happy 5-year old. That has happened, in part, because of his sudden grasp on certain things that are beyond his years.

"It's like he went from age four to age 10," Jeff said.

Next year, Ethan is going to start playing junior golf. His other favorite things to do are swimming, fishing with his dad, playing T-ball and playing with his favorite toys.

"I have a Leapster that has games and I like to play with it and those are my favorite blocks (speaking of his legos). I think about them all the time," Ethan said.

His little brother Evan, was also born premature, when Cindy was only 33 weeks along.

Unfortunately, at the time of his birth, St. Catherine's NBICU was full, so the Ungers were transferred to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, where they spent about 10 days before being transferred back to Garden City.

"The facilities at Wesley were fabulous, too, but the fact of the matter is to have to have done that all the time would have been crazy," Cindy said. "We're just blessed to have one here locally because it helps out so many people. The doctors and nursers are very qualified, they have the best intentions, they are absolutely looking out for the babies."

Evan, who will turn two on Saturday, is all boy and loves dirt, which Cindy said was one of the first words he learned to say.

"We found a video for Evan to watch so it would give me a break and he likes dirt so much, that we bought him a Bob the Builder video and he loves it," she said.

Ethan will present the winner of this year's Pro-Am golf tournament with the prize check on Saturday afternoon at The Golf Club at Southwind.

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