Local Heroes / NICU Doctors & Nurses
Advocates for the most helpless
Photos by kc kratt
The profilees featured in this month's issue may not have instantly recognizable names, but to us they’re famous. They do tireless work—often volunteered or minimally compensated—to support what makes life in Western New York (or anywhere) worth living: adequate housing, personal safety, good medical care, access to arts/culture, a healthy natural environment, and so much more. Meet one of our heroes: Wayne Gall.
Zuzana Buckley came into the world ten weeks early, tiny but fierce and ready to take on the challenges ahead. Doctors had diagnosed her mother, Lindsay Buckley, with HELLP Syndrome (a combination of Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelet count) and, with Lindsay’s liver failing, ordered an immediate C-section. While Lindsay recovered at Buffalo General Hospital for fifteen days, Zuzana went to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Sisters of Charity Hospital.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” says Buckley, of being separated from her newborn. “My husband would be back and forth all day, every day. The NICU nurses were so supportive during this time. They helped him take photos of her to show me and wrote down updates for him to give me so that I was always in the loop. There was so much positive energy that it allowed us to trust the times we had to spend away from her and look forward to the big day when she would be home.”
Fifty-seven days later, after spending her first Christmas and New Year’s in the hospital, Zuzana finally went home.
“The nurses and doctors are true miracle workers,” Buckley says. “I have never met people so dedicated and so genuine. They were honest and open with us from day one, even if what they were telling us wasn’t necessarily what we wanted to hear. They treated our child as one of their own; they felt emotions with us and worked with us through every hurdle. They are like family to us now, and we are forever grateful.”
Every year, about 2,000 babies receive care in NICUs in the Kaleida and Catholic Health systems. Most staff work twelve-hour shifts, often treating the most fragile members of our community when the rest of us are home sleeping. And most love their jobs; officials from both health systems report low turnover rates in these units (other than retirements).
In 2010, Sarah Courtney’s son, Calvin, was also born with a giant omphalocele (abdominal wall defect) at Women and Children's Hospital of Buffalo and spent seven months in the NICU, before eventually having surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Seeing your baby hooked up to all the machines is very scary,” Courtney says. “The nurses were amazing. They would talk with me and just reassure me that this was the best place for him to be. They would also talk to me about other things, which was nice because sometimes people don’t know what to say to you when you are going through a difficult situation. They made me feel like Calvin was safe.”
Courtney’s youngest daughter, Brooklyn, was in Mercy Hospital’s NICU for ten days in August. “When I had to leave Calvin and Brooklyn in the NICU, it was very tough emotionally,” she says. “The nurses gave us strength and reassured us that it was was OK to leave and they would take good care of our babies. I would like to thank the nurses for being there for my children when I couldn’t be. Also, to the nurses at Children’s, thank you for giving me strength to get through and always being my shoulder to cry on if I needed it.”
“Thank you for teaching two nervous preemie parents how to be confident with a tiny baby,” Buckley says. “Thank you for celebrating every little step with us. Thank you for your knowledge, for doing what it took to help our daughter thrive. Thank you for the laughs and the smiles on days that were otherwise bad. We are more grateful than you’ll ever know.”
Matthew Biddle is a regular Spree contributor. His and wife Amanda’s daughter, Aria, spent twenty-three days in the NICU at Women and Children’s Hospital this past August. She was born with an omphalocele, but, thanks to her incredible surgeon and NICU team, she’s home now, smiling, and growing almost too fast.