By Joel Hillan

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Former preemies and their families gathered at the University of Colorado Hospital for their 34th annual get together on Saturday.

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(credit: CBS)

In the past, all of the families spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of UCHealth.

Among the crowd were Rachael and Kyle Donnelly. They had been married for four years when they found out Rachael was expecting their first child.

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Kyle Donnelly (credit: CBS)

“I was excited. I was ecstatic when I found out she was finally pregnant,” said Kyle.

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Donnelly family (credit: CBS)

“We started with a total normal pregnancy, was totally healthy, everything was totally good to go,” said Rachael.

When Rachael went in for a routine ultrasound they discovered she had a condition which wouldn’t allow her to carry full-term without a procedure.

Unfortunately, that procedure would fail to get her much closer to term.

“I stood up to put my plate in the kitchen and my water broke.”

At the local hospital, they were told there was really nothing they could do.

“We sat in an ER and listened to a doctor tell us that they were going to let us miscarry because she was before the age of viability in Colorado.”

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(credit: CBS)

Kyle had heard about the NICU at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and insisted on being transferred there.

“I said, ‘I don’t care if it’s hopeless, I want to go to that hospital, because I know that she’ll have a better chance there.’”

They would hold off birth for another five days, then it was time.

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(credit: Donnelly family)

Riata was still born at 1.45 lbs. and 23 weeks. It would take the help of doctors and nurses for her to take her first breath

“When I saw her breathe, it was the first time I had felt hope,” said Kyle.

Riata would spend 128 days in the NICU before being released and is right on course for a normal, healthy life.

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Riata Donnelly (credit: CBS)

At their side, joining in the battle for her life were the doctors and nurses… friends they had a chance to thank again.

“I’d say that you’re the best humans on this planet,” said Kyle. “The compassion and the caring and the love for a human being that’s so small is amazing and you guys are awesome.”

Joel Hillan anchors CBS4 This Morning on weekends as well as reports stories for CBS4 News at 5 and 6 p.m. Follow Joel on Twitter @joelhillan.

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