NICU Hero Highlight: Joann Thorpe

September 25, 2015

Parents of preemie babies rely on the support of their baby’s healthcare professionals through a very scary time of life. Chelsea Arledge found neonatal nurse Joann Thorpe to be indispensable when her baby Travis was born at 23 weeks while her husband was deployed in Iraq. Because of Joann’s extraordinary support, Chelsea nominated her for a 2015 NICU Heroes Award.

NICU Heroes Awards are given to professionals in recognition of their compassion and dedication to improving outcomes not only for medically fragile babies, but also the entire family. Joann Thorpe, RNC, of Redding, California, and Aryan Azimi-Zonooz, MD, of Bend, Oregon, were each named 2015 NICU Hero Award Winners.

NICU hero Joann Thorpe Mead Johnson

Joann poses with Kenneth Carlsen of Mead Johnson Nutrition. Photo courtesy Mercy Medical Center

Joann Thorpe was Chelsea’s neonatal nurse at Dignity Health Mercy Medical Center Redding. When Chelsea went into very early labor, she felt as if Joann was the staff member who offered her the most hope. Travis was only 1 lb. 3.5 oz. when he was born and spent his first 142 days of life in NICU wards. Joann held Chelsea’s hand and promised that they would do everything they could to save her tiny baby.

Joann also knew the effect such trauma could have on the small Arledge family. Once Chelsea’s husband arrived at the hospital, she told Travis’s parents that their journey in the NICU department would be one of the hardest they would ever experience. She made it clear to them that they needed to love and support one another through it and encouraged them to stay strong and united as a team.

“Looking back, this was really hard on our marriage. She had so much wisdom about our situation—I wish we could have fully grasped it at the time,” said Chelsea. “But Joann cared and knew what we were up against.”

Since her experience, Chelsea has decided to pursue a career in nursing. “Whenever I think about what kind of nurse I want to be, I think of Joann. Her dedication was unwavering. It is my hope that one day as a nurse I will make as big of an impact on someone else’s life as Joann has had on mine. If I can be even half the nurse she is, then I’ll be successful.”

NICU hero Joann Thorpe Arledge family

Joanne Thorpe, right, poses with the Arledge family at the NICU Hero Award ceremony on September 17, 2015. Photo courtesy Mercy Medical Center.

Chelsea’s decision is a familiar one to Joann. Just 31 years ago, Joann experienced a similar story when her own daughter was born and required advanced treatment in the NICU. The experience also became her inspiration to become a nurse to help families like herself.

For the impact NICU Hero Joann Thorpe made on the Arledge family and all her other patients, she will receive an award certificate and trophy, presented at Dignity Health Mercy Medical Center, a $2,500 donation made in her honor to the pediatric healthcare charity of her choice, and a one-year subscription to the Hand to Hold NICU Resource Library for Dignity Health Mercy Medical Center.

Joann’s pediatric charity of choice is Mercy Foundation North. The donation will be used to purchase rocker-beds to soothe drug-addicted babies.