Former Royal Derby Hospital patient Giovan Hayer today made an emotional return to the hospital unit that helped save his life when he was born four months too early.

Now 21-years-old and standing at 6ft 3ins tall, it is hard to imagine that Giovan was once so tiny that he was only 32cm long and weighed less than 2 pounds when he was born back in 1997.

After overcoming such a tough start to his life, he has since gone from strength to strength and was today joined by his parents in a moving reunion with some of the staff from the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) that cared for him.

In total, Giovan spent more than four months in the Baby Unit at the former Derby City General Hospital and tears were shed as he and parents Jag and Genie met up with Consultant Paediatrician Dr Nigel Ruggins for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Giovan said: “It was such an emotional experience to see Dr Ruggins after all of this time, both for myself and my parents. I just want to say thank you to everyone here on the unit for everything they’ve done for me. Looking back at the old pictures, it is really hard to believe how far I’ve come but it just shows that you can overcome the odds. I am just so grateful to everyone that helped me and really want to thank everyone in the NHS for the amazing work that they do.”

Parents Jag and Genie also wanted to pay tribute to everyone that helped their son and so brought in goodie bags filled with boxes of chocolates, bottles of champagne and two DAB radios for NICU staff as a special thank you.

But after seeing her son grow up to recently graduate with a 2:1 degree in English Language from Sheffield Hallam University, mum Jag insisted that she would never be able to pay the staff back.

She said: “There hasn’t been a day that’s gone by where we haven’t thought about what this hospital has done for us. Every day has been a blessing and it’s all because of the wonderful work all of these people do. They’ve gifted us this wonderful young man and we really can’t thank them enough. It was such a frightening time but the staff are just amazing, provide outstanding 24-7 care and do a phenomenal job helping parents like us. No mother ever thinks they’ll have a 16 week premature baby but for any families in this situation, I’d tell them to hold on to hope. It’s been a real journey but it was all so worthwhile and I can’t stress enough how proud I am of my son.”

The family were also given a tour of the new unit, which was opened in 2007 and has the facilities to care for 24 premature babies; an increase on the 20 cots available in the smaller former Baby Unit.

Consultant Paediatrician Dr Ruggins has witnessed first-hand all of the changes to the unit over the past two decades and expressed his delight in seeing Giovan doing so well.

He said: “It really was emotional to see Giovan and his parents again. The odds were really stacked against him, so it feels amazing to see just how far he’s come.  I’ve been a consultant here for 28 years and, whilst we do have former premature babies return to see us, they’re never this far along, so it was fantastic for everyone to see him. It’s a nightmare scenario for all parents to see their children born prematurely, so moments like this really should be cherished. It really warms all of our hearts and lets everyone working on the unit know that their efforts are appreciated.”

NICU Manager Angela Merry was a staff nurse on the unit back in 1997 and admitted that seeing Giovan and his family again “made all of the hard work worthwhile”.

She added: “It was amazing to see that they remembered us after all of this time. They were so lovely and it is great to have been able to see them again. Stories like this will give so much to hope to other families going through the same situation. We’re all so happy to have seen him grow up to be such a successful young man.”