man playing guitar with granddaughter

Why I’m ‘marching for babies’

April 21, 2016 | Whitney Brown, RN
NICU nurse Whitney Brown, RN

As a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at UC Irvine Medical Center, I’ve seen firsthand the difficulties faced by premature and ill babies and their families.

That’s why I walk in the March of Dimes “March for Babies” to represent UCI Health and to help fund research that helps moms have healthy, full-term pregnancies.

At 9 in the NICU

When I was nine, my newborn sister had jaundice. That was a big issue back then, because jaundice could cause long-term developmental delays if it wasn’t treated early enough. Seeing my sister under those bright phototherapy lights, and watching the nurses who took care of her in the hospital where she was born, sparked something in me. I thought, “Wow, this is what I want to do.”

When I started working in the NICU at UC Irvine Medical Center four years ago, I knew it was where I belonged.

Little bodies, big battles

I’ve cared for many babies over the past four years, including a baby born prematurely after just a 28-week pregnancy, who had pneumonia so bad he developed chronic lung disease. He was in our unit for six months and had a really long, difficult journey.

Without all the medical advances that have been made in the past decade, I don’t know if he would have made it.

Another baby was born full term but had a birth defect called “omphalocele,” in which the intestines develop within the umbilical cord. He had to have surgery to place his intestines back into his abdomen. The defect was so large that there wasn’t enough skin and tissue to close his belly. So for months we worked to get his wound to heal while keeping him stable and healthy.

By the time he left, he was a big, happy 9-month-old, but he had been through so much more than I think I could have endured as an adult.

Seeing him smile and play as a healthy baby was so inspiring — as is knowing that someday, thanks to groups like the March of Dimes, future babies won’t have to suffer that much or have such a long hospital stay.

Making an impact

I didn’t know much about March of Dimes until I started working in the NICU for UCI Health. Each year we have a former NICU patient and parent visit and share their story. These stories have really moved me, and they make me realize the true impact of my job on the future health of these young patients.

Seeing that impact makes me want to help support research that will give premature and ill babies more of a fighting chance. I want to give back and further support these amazing babies and families I care for every day.

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