NICU Team Helps Tiniest Patients Thrive
The parents' thank you note arrived at Christmas, reminding Andrea why her job as a registered nurse is so rewarding.
"You are our angel. You helped make this possible," wrote the parents whose baby spent four months in Andrea's care at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
"That touched my heart," says Andrea, who recently received an update and a picture of Charles, who went home several months ago. "It brought tears to my eyes. That's what I love most about my job."
Andrea was hired as a registered nurse in 1999 and trained in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. After 10 years, she continues to care for the hospital's youngest and tiniest patients. And she doesn't want to work anywhere else.
'Sense of Teamwork' in NICU
"I consider our NICU to be the best," Andrea says, citing the unit's structure and consistency and the experience, training, and commitment of the staff. "There is a sense of teamwork here. Everything is a team effort. It helps us provide better care."
The infants are treated by a team of NICU nurses, neonatologists, therapists, and support professionals. The unit provides specialized care to the babies and support services for the parents.
"We have nurses who have been here 20 years," Andrea says. "Nurses are here because they want to be here. We bond with these babies. We take care of these babies as if they were our own. We also have an excellent team of doctors who stay on top of the research."
Andrea works at night and typically cares for two to four babies each shift, depending upon the severity of their conditions. Respiratory complications and other ailments are not uncommon in premature births, some as early as 23 weeks. A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks. Some of the babies weigh less than 1 pound.
"It's pretty amazing how small some of these babies are," Andrea says. "They can fit into the size of an average person's hand."
Babies typically stay in the unit for two to six months and weigh at least 4 pounds before they are sent home. The unit tries to simulate a womb-like setting, shielding the babies from too much noise or light.
"The first 48 hours are the most critical. Once they get over that hump, they're not as fragile," says Andrea.
Focus is Patient Safety and Family Care
"Our focus is always patient safety. It's thinking about what you're doing and why you're doing it. There is a culture of safety and patient-family care. We don't only care for patients. We also work with and care for the parents," Andrea says. "Here, you have parents who didn't wind up with the perfect pregnancy where the baby goes home in two or three days. This can be very heartbreaking for the families. The mothers go through a lot of guilt and grieving. We have to teach them how to take care of this tiny baby."
Andrea notes that all the machines and the wires can be overwhelming for parents, who can be afraid of hurting their tiny baby. The NICU staff reinforces what the parents are learning, and tries to answer all their questions. Matching a team of nurses with a family helps develop bonds, and establishes better communication and consistency.
"The most satisfying part of my job is seeing the babies go home," Andrea says. "It's seeing the smile on the parents' faces. It's seeing the parents' gratitude. It's reminding them how afraid they were at first. Now they've accomplished so much."