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A Journey from Nurse to Patient: Recognizing World Prematurity Day

Approximately 15 million babies are born preterm each year. That’s roughly one in ten babies worldwide. However, for Stormont Vail Health’s very own Neonatal Intensive Care nurse, Mandie Toba’ee, that statistic was two in ten.

You may not be able to tell from the above picture but Jasper and Corbin are both NICU alums. Before their love of soccer and baseball, before their obsession with all things superheroes and before they even knew how to crawl, they had to learn to breath without the aid of machines.

This World Prematurity Day (Tuesday, November 17) we are telling the story of Mandie and how she went from an employee in the NICU to a patient after the birth of her twin boys.

How long have you been working in the NICU at Stormont Vail Health?

Prior to graduating from nursing school, I worked as a Patient Care Technician in the NICU. Upon graduation, I accepted a full-time night shift position, where I’ve been working as an RN for the past 12 years.

What are some of your day-to-day tasks you perform in the NICU?

I am a bedside RN but I function in a variety of different roles within the NICU. I’m trained for core charge as well as Neonatal Transport. Additionally, I support my patients breathing and temperature regulation, provide IV nutrition and tube feedings and assist families in successfully breastfeeding and/or bottle-feeding their premature infants.

Sounds like you have a busy job!

It definitely keeps me on my toes! I’ve cared for patients weighing less than one pound as well as some weighing more than 12 pounds.

So, what went through your mind when you were told your boys would need to spend time in the NICU?

Being a seasoned NICU nurse, I knew the moment my husband and I found out that we were having twins that there was a good chance we’d need to spend time in the NICU. Our goal was to make it to 36 weeks, which would mean that we would avoid an automatic NICU admission.

However, things don’t always go according to plan and I was admitted to the hospital at 29 weeks and 6 days for preterm labor. I was placed on a monitor that helped keep track of my contractions and my babies’ heartrates. In addition, they gave me medication to help mature the boys’ lungs and to help stop my contractions.

We can’t imagine how stressful and scary all of this must have been.

After working in the NICU for so long, I’d seen and talked to countless parents who went through exactly what I was going through. But to actually be in that scenario is entirely different!

At one point, the Neonatologist came to our room to speak to my husband and me about what to expect if we delivered this early. And sure enough, the night before our anticipated discharge, I woke up in the middle of the night to a gush of fluid… my water had broken.

That must have thrown a giant monkey-wrench in your plans!

I knew instantly that all our plans for carrying this pregnancy to 36 weeks just went out the window. Throughout the rest of the night, my contractions only increased and by shift change that morning, I confessed to my nurses that I was starting to feel pressure. The OB quickly came in to check me and discovered that we could no longer wait. My babies were coming now. Six weeks earlier than we had planned.

It was a whirlwind of activity from there. I knew my NICU family would take the best care of my babies and I had complete trust in their skills and expertise. As I was being prepared for a C-section, we discovered that my spinal block did not fully numb my lower abdomen on one side, which meant I would have to be put to sleep, the last thing I remember before I went under was telling my NICU team across the room to take lots of pictures for me! They did not disappoint!

Jasper and Corbin in the NICU.

What was it like going from working in the NICU to now being a patient in the NICU?

Learning to become a parent in the NICU definitely had its challenges! Premature babies are not just small babies. Their entire body, inside and out, is not prepared for life outside of the womb yet. They needed help breathing, staying warm, obtaining nutrition, eating, keeping their heart rates up and gaining weight. All of these things now had to be done by machines and skilled health care staff, no longer by my body.

That is probably the absolute hardest thing a NICU mom has to face, the fact that her body was supposed to be doing all of these things and for whatever reason, couldn’t. Asking for permission to take care of your baby instead of just following your instincts. And for me, making that transition from NICU nurse to NICU mom, bonding with my babies and seeing them as MY babies, and not my patients, was the hardest. My day-to-day NICU routine was not much different as a mom than it was as a nurse, and trying to keep that separation in my mind was something I consciously had to focus on.

Does anything stand out to you from your stay in the NICU?

I had so many wonderful staff take care of my babies, my husband and me throughout our 5 weeks in the hospital. It wasn’t just about me and it wasn’t just about our babies, they really took care of our family as a whole. Firstly, Dr. Gleason. He was always straightforward with us and when it came time for me to deliver, he made sure he was there. Next, Sarah Sage, RN on Birthplace. She took care of me throughout the majority of my stay before I delivered and was such a comforting presence. We had several different nurses in the NICU. The ones that stand out most are Erika Seele, RN, Chelsea Meyers, RN, Kelsi Brown, RN, and Kent Hamilton, RN. They were our most consistent team and took amazing care of our babies when we couldn’t. They even made me scrapbook pages to document our journey!

Sounds like quite an amazing team! Do you have any stories that stick out?

I will never forget the day Becca Meier, RN, took care of us! That morning on my way into the hospital I noticed that half of my face wasn’t working like it should. I ended up spending several hours in the Emergency Department, getting checked out. When I finally made it back up to the NICU the first question she asked was, “What do you need? Do you need lunch or do you need to hold your babies?” I dissolved into tears! I was a mess and just wanted to hold my babies. She made it happen and after some much needed snuggles, she also made sure I got something to eat!

How would you say your experience as a patient in the NICU changed the way you approach each shift?

As NICU nurses we see and experience a lot of highs and lows right alongside our families. We sympathize with the struggles that NICU life can bring. However, I can now empathize with my families as well. I now know what it feels like to be on the other side of the Isolette®. The loss of control, the worry, the stress, the sleep deprivation… NICU families live that every minute of every day of their journey and sometimes beyond. Preemies are the strongest people you will ever meet, and right behind them are their parents.

Any advice you’d want to give to new parents who need to spend time in the NICU?

Breathe. Take it one day at a time. The NICU is usually described as a rollercoaster, and it can be. You’re making all this upward progress towards discharge and then suddenly something changes and you’re going downhill again. Your nurses are highly tuned in to subtle changes in your baby and they’re keeping an eye on them 24/7.

Also, do something for yourself every day! The NICU environment can be mentally taxing, even just spending 15 minutes out in the sunshine, writing in a journal or just taking a nap will do A LOT towards keeping you grounded throughout your journey.

The Toba’ee family: Jeff, Mandie, Jasper and Corbin.

We are incredibly proud of our NICU team! Each one of them are dedicated to not only ensuring their preemie patients are taken care of, but also their patients’ parents or guardians. Their hard work and commitment to improving the health of those they serve is immeasurable. Learn more about the amazing work they do by visiting our NICU webpage.

From all of us at Stormont Vail, we wish NICU staff members, parents and guardians currently staying in NICUs and NICU alums a happy and healthy World Prematurity Day!

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