Monday is NICU Awareness Day in Alabama.
Huntsville Hospital cares for about 1,100 premature and sick babies a year. It's the only hospital in North Alabama with a Level Three NICU unit.
Michelle McGouyrk's story with the NICU started three decades ago. Born at just 31 weeks and weighing just 3 lbs at birth, she spent the first month of her life in the NICU fighting to survive.
"I've always wanted to do NICU, so I'm thrilled that...I'm in my 10th year here now," McGouyrk, who is now a nurse in the NICU, said.
McGouyrk said hearing her parents talk about the nurses and doctors that cared for her and how much they helped inspired her to become a NICU nurse herself.
"She said that I actually did very well. I was on the ventilator, I think, for 24 hours and then she said oxygen for another 48," McGouyrk said. "I remember them telling me stories about how they would like...How they were so comforted by the nurses that took care of me and they treated them like their own family, treated me like I was their own baby."
We talked to one family whose baby McGouyrk cared for nearly five years ago. They still keep in touch with her now.
"We were able to create more than just the nurse-patient friendship, and we've actually been friends for four years now," the mother, Malynda Carroll, said.
At 27 weeks, Malynda Carroll had an emergency C-section because of health complications. She gave birth to her son, Reece, who weighed 1 lb and 14 oz. Reece spent 71 days in the NICU.
"He was in the hospital for so long in the isolate, we actually didn't get to touch him for several days. I didn't get to hold him for a couple of weeks," Carroll said.
Even though it was hard, she said having a nurse like McGouyrk helped make the difference.
"Having a nurse that you can confide in and someone that you knew was going to take top-notch care of your baby and that incorporated you into everything always made us feel at peace when we laid our heads down at night. We knew he was being taken really good care of," Carroll said.
Both McGouyrk and Carroll said people don't often know exactly what the NICU is for until their family ends up in one, and they say that's why it's important for NICU awareness to exist.
"I think NICU awareness is important because most people are like me. They're not aware of actually what the NICU really is. They take very small babies like Reece and help them develop into babies well enough to come home," Carroll said.