Royce Murrow now is a strapping young college student, so it's no surprise that Dr. Anthony Hadeed didn't immediately recognize him.
Hadeed is a neonatologist at Kadlec Regional Medical Center, and he helped care for Murrow in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit when the now-19-year-old was a preemie weighing just more than a pound.
But it didn't take long for the memories to come flooding back during a special preview Wednesday evening of the newly remodeled and expanded NICU. "Did we send him to Children's for a short time and then he came back?" Hadeed asked.
That's right, Murrow's parents said.
The doctor nodded. Soon, he was posing for pictures with Murrow and beaming as his former patient -- once so small -- told how he's found a passion in horses and rodeo, and started classes this week at Columbia Basin College.
The happy reunion was one of many Wednesday, as former NICU families toured the new space in advance of the ceremonial ribbon cutting and public tours Sept. 25.
The new unit, with 27 bassinets, opens Oct. 1 after months of construction.
It's five times larger than the previous NICU, with private rooms.
"The NICU we had before was very small and the parents could never stay overnight -- there was nowhere for them to stay. It wasn't big enough to accommodate all the visitors and the families, and this unit is. We're very excited about that," said Kelly Harper, the NICU manager.
The project cost $9 million and largely was covered by donations raised through a Kadlec Foundation campaign. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Doc Hastings also helped secure a $1.4 million federal grant, the hospital said.
Murrow was among the oldest former patients to visit. Chloe Meyer was among the youngest.
The Richland girl came with her parents, Ryan and Aye Meyer. She was born this past spring and spent more than 100 days at Kadlec and Seattle Children's Hospital. She's doing well now, her father said.
So is another former patient.
Phyllis Baxter brought her son Elliott, 6, a kindergartner and soccer player, who spent 10 days in Kadlec's NICU after being born seven weeks early. It was a scary time, Baxter said, but it was obvious he was "getting top-notch care."
Cradling baby Chloe in her arms, Neonatologist Dr. Miriam Zaragoza said one of the best parts of the job is when the children return for a visit.
"You can pick them up and tell them how precious they are, how their parents loved them the whole time they were in the NICU," she said. "It makes it all worth it."
And the new and bigger NICU "means we'll be able to provide more services for people in the community," Zaragoza said. "It's just a blessing."
That's how Royce Murrow and his parents, Joann and Ross, seem to feel about the NICU. They like to come back when they can.
Royce said it's nice for the staff to see the babies they care for can thrive, grow and succeed.
And it means a chance to say thanks.
"We're thankful for the doctors and nurses. Very thankful," Joann Murrow said. She nodded toward Dr. Hadeed, with tears in her eyes.
"He did -- he saved (Royce's life)," she said.
-- Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; email@example.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald