Kathy Reichard and Colleen Crook both personally know the joy of becoming a mother, followed by the gut-wrenching feeling of having to leave a tiny, premature baby behind in the hospital for weeks or months of additional intensive care.
That’s why both nurses now work in the WellSpan York Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where they both first spent many hours as a mom.
The two NICU-moms-turned-NICU-nurses put their arms around others and help them go down the same path they once walked.
“I can say, ‘I know how difficult it is to leave your baby here, but I want you to know you are doing great and you are doing everything you can do,’ ” says Colleen.
Kathy sometimes shares with NICU parents that two of her four children were cared for in the NICU, including her older daughter and one of her twin sons. “I see a mom who is crying, and I can empathize and tell her that I was a NICU mom, too, and that I know how she feels,” she says. “I tell her that we will take care of your baby. We are here for you.”
Both Colleen and Kathy started their nursing careers working in different areas of WellSpan York Hospital, Kathy in the operating room and Colleen in a medical-surgical unit. The two nurses join several other current and former staff members, including a unit secretary and another nurse, who were NICU moms and then got jobs in the WellSpan York Hospital NICU, a Level 3, 44-bed unit that offers leading-edge care in a calm, compassionate environment.
Anna and Avery
Kathy’s older daughter Anna (now 17 years old) weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces when she was born. Colleen’s daughter Avery (now almost 2 years old) weighed just 15 ounces. Both babies needed high-tech care that included ventilator and feeding support. And their parents needed high-touch care when they had to adjust their expectations about life with a new baby.
“The separation when you have to go home and your baby stays in the hospital is very hard,” Kathy says.
“She lived in an isolette for four months,” Colleen says. “She was 21 days old when we could hold her for the first time.”
New baby, new job
Kathy applied for a job in the NICU the day before her daughter was discharged from the unit.
“I fell in love with what the NICU does for families,” she says. “I got to see how they took care of the babies and then, with my family’s overall positive experience, I knew I wanted to do this too. I just had the need and the desire to take care of sick babies because they took such good care of my baby.”
Colleen applied after she brought her daughter home from the hospital. She says her husband encouraged her, pointing to the wonderful nurses they had, saying, “You could be somebody’s Lisa or somebody’s Alaina.”
“Being a NICU parent, I learned that it’s a very special job to be a NICU nurse and have a parent trust you with the care of their child,” she says. “It’s one of those things that is very sacred.”
Learn more about WellSpan’s specialized care for tiny newborns here.