Thirteen years ago, I started my career as a nurse in the Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for one reason: I love working with babies and their families.
Babies are so innocent and fragile, and I knew my calling was in caring for the ones who are critically ill and vulnerable. It has been an incredibly fulfilling career full of joy and successes. Even though I had cared for these babies day in and day out, I could never fully relate to their experience until I became a NICU parent myself.
Four years ago this month, my daughter Isla was delivered prematurely at 34 weeks at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. At 32 weeks, an ultrasound revealed she had bilateral pleural effusions with the left side diagnosed as moderate to severe. These were not seen on any prior imaging during my pregnancy. Pleural effusions occur when fluid accumulates in the chest cavity and can cause issues with the respiratory system.
After further investigation, my daughter was diagnosed with congenital chylothorax, which occurs in one out every 15,000 births. The cause is unknown. Because I was a nurse and I understood what this diagnosis meant in a clinical setting, the news was devastating to me and my family. Nobody wants to ever hear that something is wrong with their baby, and with my background treating NICU babies, I had added concerns. I was so scared of the unknowns of her diagnosis. Would she survive? How long would she have to stay in the NICU? Were there going to be long term complications? Where there other issues that occur with this defect?
After Isla’s diagnosis, I felt like everything was spinning out of control with my body and her body. I wanted immediate answers because the fear was so paralyzing for me as both a nurse and a mother.
On a Saturday night right after shift change, my daughter was delivered via caesarean section and experienced a traumatic birth due to her condition. Thankfully, our NICU Transport Team and Dr. John Chapman, the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth attending physician in the NICU, were ready and prepared for Isla’s delivery.
Her entire left lung had collapsed, which caused her to need a breathing tube, a chest tube and umbilical lines at her delivery. Once the fluid was removed from her left chest cavity, her lung was able to expand and her respiratory status improved. Since I had been placed under general anesthesia, I was not immediately aware of everything that had happened during delivery. I remember waking up from anesthesia and the first questions I asked my coworker were, “Is Isla alive? What happened?” I was told that she had been stabilized in the delivery room and immediately taken to our NICU for further management. I knew then that she was really sick and unexpected events had occurred, but I also knew that she was in the best hands, the hands of those I am lucky to call my coworkers.
Thanks to the excellent care provided by my colleagues in the NICU, we were able to bring Isla home after only two and a half weeks. She was healthy and did not have any further complications. I have no words to express the gratitude I feel for the people that I work with every day who helped save my daughter’s life. I thank God for allowing me to have Isla and for my colleagues who fought so hard to keep her here.
Going through this humbling experience changed me in a way that is difficult to express. With any nursing care I provide, whether it is at the bedside or with quality improvement projects within the NICU, I remember my own NICU experience. I visualize myself as the “parent” and handle the baby as if he or she were my own because I truly know how hard it is to see your child in the NICU.
I have experienced the fear, heartache and loss of control of having other people take care of my baby when I could not take care of her myself. I know what it feels like to walk out of the hospital and have to leave my baby behind. I remember both the pros and cons, and continuously strive to make improvements that will provide high-quality patient care to our NICU babies and their families. My goal as a NICU nurse is to give every family the same opportunity to bring home a happy, healthy baby from the hospital. Also, as a nurse, I want to provide a meaningful and valued experience to those families who are unable to bring their babies home or have to bring them home with chronic needs.
At the end of every shift, I keep in mind that the most important aspect of my job is that our babies and their families feel as if they have received the best care possible in our NICU, however brief or long their stay is with us. Our team works diligently to ensure their experience is rooted in compassion and quality, and we aim to treat every child as if he or she were our own. It’s my promise to my patients, as both a nurse and a NICU mom.
Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital recently received official designation from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) as one of only four Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) in the state, a distinguished accreditation bestowed only upon programs capable of treating the most critically ill neonatal babies, according to DSHS. The distinction, which applies to each of the hospital’s 118 NICU beds, is the most advanced recognition available.