Neonatologist Aryan Azimi-Zonooz, M.D., of St. Charles Medical System in Bend, Oregon, routinely cares for fragile preemie babies. But the care he took for baby Aviv, son of Jill Leonard, touched the family deeply and prompted her to share her story with others. Little Aviv, who was born at 37 ½ weeks, was diagnosed with pneumonia and a collapsed lung within an hour of birth. Over the next few days, Jill noticed Dr. Azimi-Zonooz’s clean-shaven face grow a full beard, as he led Aviv’s care and recovery. He never left the hospital.
Dr. Azimi empathetically explained every one of numerous X-rays, what every tube and line hooked up to Baby Aviv was, and answered every question as if it were the only one.
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“Dr. Azimi was kind, soft-spoken, and the most humble man. He will always remain our family hero,” said Jill. “He made us feel hopeful.” Every year on Aviv’s birthday, the Leonards plan to add a blue candle to the birthday cake to represent Dr. Azimi-Zonooz and the medical staff that allowed Aviv to have birthdays.
That’s why Jill nominated Dr. Azimi-Zonooz for a NICU Heroes Award. Earlier this month, Hand to Hold and Mead Johnson Nutrition presented the 3rd Annual NICU Heroes Award to two professionals who provide premature and critically ill infants and their families with outstanding care and support.
This year’s review committee selected Dr. Azimi-Zonooz and NICU nurse Joann Thorpe to receive the two awards. Each honoree was recognized at a NICU Heroes Award ceremony at his and her respective hospitals, receiving a trophy, certificate, and a $2,500 donation in their name to the pediatric healthcare charity of their choice. Dr. Azimi-Zonooz’s gift will be donated to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Oregon. Additionally, each hospital will receive a one-year subscription to Hand to Hold’s NICU Resource Library, which provides educational materials parents can use during their child’s NICU stay.
Dr. Azimi-Zonooz feels honored by the recognition, since he loves his job. He said, “The field of neonatology affords an unmatched opportunity to watch the newborn brain transform, mature and achieve its full yet nascent potential,” he adds. “I could not imagine any other field of medicine more fulfilling than to be a part of a team that espouses and nurtures this mission.”