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My NICU story inspired me to become a nurse

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  103117VONNICUnurse640 In 2012, at 25 weeks pregnant with my fourth child, I received terrifying news – he needed to be delivered immediately. My preeclampsia had rapidly progressed to eclampsia, and our yet-unnamed little boy would need to enter the world in July instead of November. As frightened as I was, I clung to the fact I was being transferred from our community hospital to the then-new Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women. Nothing could have truly prepared me for the ups and downs ahead. When Branton first entered the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), I thought his path would be mostly linear, with maybe a few setbacks here and there. I never imagined the extent of the NICU roller coaster ride he would take: multiple failed attempts to breathe without a vent, a very serious infection at less than a week old and the horrible feeling of being at home, away from my son, while he struggled to get well and grow. Only later did I discover this is all part of the totally unpredictable NICU experience. I would come to realize the only thing we could count on were surprises, some good, some bad … that, and the unrelenting kindness, patience and life-saving proficiency of the NICU staff. Our incredible Texas Children’s team kept Branton and me going. The nurse who caught what I later learned were increased apneic and bradycardic episodes–leading to the sepsis workup that ultimately saved Branton’s life–also had the expertise, time and heart to empathize with me and answer my questions. I realized, not only did our nurses take care of Branton … they did the same for me. The combination of expertise, knowledge, skill and caring exhibited by our Texas Children’s nurses was awe-inspiring. About a month into Branton’s NICU stay, I realized there was no more fulfilling career ideal for me–or way to pay forward what I experienced–than becoming a nurse. From that moment, my dream was to support and help other patients and families in the way Branton’s team had diligently and tirelessly done for us. The day Branton was discharged home–just a few weeks after his original due date–stands out as one of the happiest days of my life. I thank Texas Children’s for another very special day. A couple of years after Branton’s homecoming, I was thrilled to start my new career as a graduate nurse in NICU 4 at Texas Children’s. Being part of the same team that made my son’s present-day life as a thriving 5-year-old possible is truly an amazing and humbling experience. My experience as a NICU mom influences so much of what I do as a nurse. While partnering with our families in the care of our tiny, most vulnerable patients, I remember how heart wrenching it was to feel as though I could not take care of my own child. I recall my endless questions, concerns and worries. I was always so grateful for both the proficiency of our nurses and for their willingness to talk with me, whether it was simply asking me how I was doing or explaining the meaning of an acronym if I looked confused. I strive to always check in with my patients’ families, and to ask them how they are doing and what questions they have … about treatment, feedings, routines, anything at all. Acknowledging their roles as moms and dads–their babies’ most important caregivers–is something that meant so much to me as a mom, and that influences my practice as a nurse. There is absolutely no way to repay, or even put into adequate words, the miracle our Texas Children’s interdisciplinary team performed in saving my son, and in making Branton’s life today possible. It is an incredible honor to be here, and to be able to help other families on the journey to experiencing miracles of their own.

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Erica Atherton, NICU IV nurse