RICHMOND, Va. -- With her bright hazel eyes, Evie Louka watched in amazement Monday, as several people sang Happy Birthday to her inside a small conference room at VCU Medical Center.
Within seconds, the adorable one-year-old was shoveling mounds of cake into her mouth, covering her tiny face in icing.
Laughter filled the room, as her father exclaimed "Oh my gosh, there she goes!"
Amir and Stephanie Louka chose to celebrate their daughter's first birthday at the hospital, to thank the doctors and nurses who saved their daughter's life more than once.
"We feel absolutely fortunate," said Amir Louka.
Evie was born two months early on February 12, 2017.
Stephanie, who had battled infertility prior to her pregnancy, was suffering from severe preeclampsia and had to be induced at 32 weeks.
"It was touch and go, 34 days in the NICU," her husband said.
The Loukas were thrilled when they were finally able to leave the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and take their baby home. But fear gripped the couple once again four months later, when doctors discovered that Evie had fluid deep inside her brain.
The condition is known as hydrocephalus.
Within a week, Evie was back at VCU Medical Center undergoing surgery to place a drainage tube from her brain to her stomach.
"We knew the quality of care that we were getting," Amir said.
Thankfully the surgery was a success and the Loukas were able to take their daughter home once again, so they could experience all the joy of being new parents.
"We wanted to be a normal family," said Stephanie. "Having our house messed up doing all the things that you take for granted."
The Loukas said it wasn't difficult deciding how they wanted to celebrate their daughter's first birthday.
They invited staff members from several departments to a catered reception on the 6th floor of the hospital, just outside the NICU unit.
"I know the nurses here and the doctors, especially in the NICU, deal with some of the happiest and saddest moments in life," said Stephanie. "It's not an easy job so we just wanted to thank them."
So, with birthday kisses and hugs, the staff warmly greeted Evie on Monday, remarking how much she had grown.
"She's adorable! I can't believe how big she is, starting off so little," exclaimed Dr. Nan O'Connell, Stephanie's obstetrician.
As emergency physicians at VCU, The Loukas say they understand the demands placed on doctors. They say now, they can also empathize with families who are struggling with a sick child.
"She's very loved," said Stephanie. "You have to celebrate the happy moments."