Families of preemies and babies born with special health needs are often overwhelmed by their need for information and support, and NICU professionals make a huge difference in the lives of these families. Neonatal nurses, Meredithe Mullen and Cindy Enke, along with neonatologist Aryan Azimi-Zonooz, MD, are three finalists for the 2015 NICU Heroes Award. These outstanding neonatal professionals were chosen as finalists alongside three other fellow neonatal nurses, Shay Miller, Heather Laubmeier, and Joann Thorpe. Together their careers represent over 140 years of experience in neonatal health.
Finalist Meredithe Mullen, BSN, RNC, is a neonatal nurse at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, Iowa. With a love of babies since childhood, Meredithe has worked in the NICU for 27 years. Her most rewarding experiences are helping a mom or dad hold their baby for the first time.
Natasha Lee’s baby, Sam, was born at just 23 weeks gestation. After spending five weeks in the NICU, Natasha had still not held her precious, tiny baby boy. During week five, Sam was moved to Bay 3 with Meredithe taking over has his nurse. Within five minutes, Meredithe got everything ready to not only let her hold Sam but also to “Kangaroo” with him, even while he was on the ventilator. Meredithe took extra care of Sam like he was her own, and Natasha can’t imagine their NICU journey without Meredithe by her family’s side.
For more than 34 years, finalist Cindy Enke, BSN, RNC has helped families overcome their anxieties and learn to care for their preterm or sick infant. Cindy, a neonatal nurse at St. David’s Women’s Center of Texas, in Austin, Texas, believes that seeing a baby’s health improve enough to be sent home makes up for any hard days or trying situations you might encounter when caring for critically ill babies.
Cindy Enke met Sara Ignal on July 27, 2012. Her twins Cannon and Kaydence were born at 28 weeks, 6 days. In the first 24 hours, both of the frail, fragile twins had severe grade 4 brain hemorrhages. On the third day, Kaydence lost her NICU battle. “Cindy never seemed to leave Cannon’s bedside, even staying with him during Kaydence’s funeral so we could take time to grieve the loss of our daughter,” shared Sara.
Month after month went by and Cannon was still in the NICU. Cindy was the only nurse with the patience to get Cannon to drink a full feeding. She held him to strengthen his neck and social skills because at three months old he was still lying in a hospital crib full-time. Over 4 months later, on day 124, Cannon was discharged from the NICU on oxygen. Cindy stayed true to her word in keeping in contact Sara. She attended Cannon’s 1st birthday and also brought a pink rose in remembrance of Kaydence. When the family had a 2nd set of twins, Cindy requested to be in the delivery room for the twins’ birth so that she could be their nurse. She is affectionately known by the family as “Aunt Cindy.”
Our sixth finalist is Aryan Azimi-Zonooz, MD, neonatologist at St. Charles Bend Hospital in Bend, Oregon. He believes that field of neonatology affords an unmatched opportunity to watch the newborn brain transform, mature, and achieve its full potential. “I could not imagine any other field of medicine more fulfilling than to be a part of a team that nurtured and achieved this mission. Neonatology is an emotionally and physically taxing profession. However, the privilege and satisfaction that I experience every day as a neonatologist reinvigorates and reinforces the decision that this was and continues to be the right choice for me,” says Dr. Azimi-Zonooz, who has practiced neonatal medicine for 18 years. Jill Leonard met Dr. Azimi-Zonooz when her son Aviv was born at 37-1/2 weeks. Aviv was 7.8 lbs., but he was struggling to breathe an hour after his birth. He was sent to the NICU for immediate aid and observation. They soon met Dr. Azimi-Zonooz who shared that Aviv’s lungs were riddled with a pneumonia accompanied by a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) in both lungs. Over the next few days, he did not stop working on Aviv, kindly and patiently explaining medical terms and helping interpret x-rays.
While the family felt helpless, they appreciated his smile, reassurance and positive words about the healing he was seeing regardless of what wasn’t happening as quickly as he would have liked to see. “Although Aviv’s room seemed like ground control at NASA with all the machines with numbers lit up and beeping, we were hopeful, and also understood what these foreign numbers meant because of the the amazing nurses and Dr. Azimi-Zonooz,” explains Jill. “He humbly saved Aviv’s life, and recognizes that he did not do this alone, but that he, the NICU team, and Aviv did this together.”
Kelli Kelley, founder of Hand to Hold, and mother of two children born premature says, “Our 2015 NICU Heroes Award finalists demonstrate a lifelong professional and personal commitment to the well-being of babies and families in their care. They also understand that having a baby in the NICU affects the whole family.” Kelli Kelley goes on to say, “When neonatal professionals balance the healthcare needs for babies with the emotional care of their families, they make a positive impact on babies and families that lasts a lifetime.”
Congratulations to all six finalists, and thank you for all you do!