A TEN-WEEK-OLD baby has been given the honour of the first to “graduate” from the neo-natal ward at Southend Hospital.

The special ceremony for Sienna Hartill will be the first of many to mark the occasion for families who have faced delays in bringing their newborn loved ones home.

Braintree and Witham Times:

Plucky - Sienna with Gemma Elliott and Craig Hartill

Braintree and Witham Times:

Neonatal Practice Educator Vicky Thompson came up with the idea and said: “The nursing staff build relationships with the babies and their parents.

“We wanted to find a way to celebrate the difficult and long journey they have been through.

“Leaving the neonatal unit after a long period of time is both an exciting and apprehensive time for the parents.

“This is our way of acknowledging that transition and the impact the families have made on everyone on the unit.”

Sienna’s mum and dad, Gemma Elliott and Craig Hartill – both from Hadleigh – were thrilled to be taking Sienna home, and to be the first recipients of this special award.

Members of the unit, including nurses and consultants, joined with the family and gave them a round of applause as they left.

Craig said: “It was such an important moment for us as a family, made even more special by everyone who helped get us here, and applauded us as we left the unit.

“It’s been like our second home.

“We can’t thank everyone enough for all they have done to get us to this moment of being able to take Sienna home.

“It’s been a real honour for her to be the first premature baby graduating from Southend.

“And this is just the first of many celebrations to come for Sienna.”

All babies born before 34 weeks gestation, with a stay of two weeks or more, will join the neonatal unit’s graduation wall of fame.

Like Sienna, they will also take home a graduation cap signed by all of the nurses to remember their big day.

For the graduation photo, babies also get to wear a cute but snazzy miniature graduation cap, which was created by Claire Duggan, from Sew a Little Happiness in Rochford.

Clare kindly donated her time and materials to make the cap, which is wipeable and meets infection control standards, as well as being adjustable to fit tiny graduates.

The Polaroid camera and film was paid for by money raised by neonatal nursing staff completing in the Nuclear Race earlier this year.

Sew a Little Happiness was set up in 2012, a mother with a love of children and sewing who provides unique items for families.