UC Health uses a primary nursing model in the NICU, which means that nurses provide care to the same patients, day in and day out. Deanna knows what every fluctuation in her patients’ readings means, and what every movement of the head or the eyes might signify.
Tiny Ava is serene as Deanna carefully changes her diaper, the nurse’s expert hands moving steadily but quickly so as not to disturb her intubation. Deanna carefully clears Ava’s mouth and throat of saliva to help ease her breathing. She gently turns Ava to check on the development of her stomach, and then returns her to a position that will best allow her lungs to relax and breathe.
“You wait, and you feed them, and you do all that you can to help them grow,” she said. “And you create this little world for them, and you hope that it’s enough.”
Deanna knows because she’s been there.
Nearly 20 years ago, she and her husband, Mike, who also works at UC Health, successfully conceived after fertility treatments. Pregnant with triplets, she was hospitalized at 18 weeks.
At the time, Deanna was a nurse on the High Risk Antepartum Unit at UC Medical Center—and suddenly, her coworkers became her caregivers.
Her sons arrived at 26 weeks and five days, and they were cared for in the very NICU where she now works.
“It’s such a special thing: when you have people you can depend on to take care of your kids…,” she said as her voice, breaking with emotion, trails off.
One of Deanna’s sons, born prematurely, passed away.
Today, her two adult sons are thriving: both are students at UC, one studying graphic design and the other studying chemistry. Her younger daughter, born at full term, has been accepted to study biology at UC.
“I feel like UC is my home: I met my husband here, we got married, we did fertility (treatments), we had kids—everything is here,” she said. “I’ve always been here, and I wouldn’t go anywhere else.”
The NICU has become a surrogate family, too: Deanna helped care for the twin children of one of her colleagues. And respiratory therapist Diana Stahl helped care for Deanna’s sons in the NICU nearly 20 years ago.
“I made the cake for her boys’ high school graduation,” said Diana, a 22-year veteran of the NICU. “It all comes full circle.”
At Ava’s bedside, Diana provides respiratory care while consulting with Deanna. Meanwhile, Henley grows increasingly vocal in his bassinet across the aisle. It’s almost 8 p.m.—dinnertime. His mother, Jasmine, arrives and begins speaking to her son as she changes his diaper.
She tells him how anxious his 6-year-old sister—also born prematurely—is for him to come home. Deanna brings in curtains to provide privacy for Jasmine to nurse her son, as Diana attends to Ava just a few steps away.
“The great thing about this unit and about this hospital is that we’re one cohesive unit. We’re a team, and we all work together to do what’s best for our babies. It’s a pretty amazing place,” Diana said. “I’ve been here 22 years, and I’m very proud to work here.”