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Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital Nurtures Newborns, Families

Monday June 1, 2009
Elizabeth O’Neill, RNC
Elizabeth O’Neill, RNC
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When Jenee Richardson’s daughter, Sydney, was born several weeks premature, the new mom was flooded with emotions.

Despite her worries and fears, Richardson knew Sydney, who arrived in April after just 27 weeks gestation, was in good hands. Not only did Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital have a great reputation, the compassion, support, and superior care by nurses in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit immediately were apparent.

“You never want your child to be in the NICU,” says Richardson, a nurse herself in the endoscopy unit at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. “But the nurses here are very dedicated, and they really care as if my child is their own child.”

Located at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital recently was recognized for its commitment to improving newborn health. The state’s chapter of the March of Dimes honored the hospital, the region’s top pediatric healthcare facility, through a Mission Triangle Award.

“Our nurses here are taking care of the sickest babies in the region,” says Charlotte Cady, RN, MSN, vice president for patient care services at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. “Their expertise is phenomenal.”

Serving patients from New York City to Albany, Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital treats 850 sick newborns a year and receives referrals from 13 regional hospitals. The facility also draws patients from New Jersey and Connecticut, offering the area’s only high-risk neonatal transport service.

Boasting a level IV NICU, Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital uses the latest technologies and techniques. Among them is the Cool-Cap system, used to treat newborns suffering from hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. The cap helps to cool the brain and prevent further damage, says Kathy Rogan, RNC, MS, clinical nurse specialist for the NICU.


Back row from left, Nancy Bierhoff, RN; Diane Stokes, RN; Jenny Simmons, RN; Kathy Mackenzie, RN; Kristen Pawlowski, RN; and Dianne Kelly, RN. Front row from left, Elizabeth O’Neill, RN; Melissa Weissman, RN; Robyn Salerno, RN; Analiza DelaSerna, RN; Gloria Vega, RN; Annie Tam, RN; and Michael Colley, RN.
“We’re very lucky here that the baby does not have to be transferred anywhere else,” Rogan says. “They can have every therapy they may need, any surgery that needs to be done, here.”

The unit also offers ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, a procedure that can be done at the patient’s bedside, Rogan says.

NICU nurses also tout state-of-the-art ventilator technology, which includes high frequency oscillators and jet ventilators.

But the level of care nurses provide at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital goes beyond cutting-edge equipment and procedures. Nurses in the NICU strive to guide parents through their child’s condition and care, ease their minds, and comfort them.

“To be able to care for some of our most critical babies and see them go home, to be able to support their families means everything,” says Rogan, who in May received an Excellence in Nursing Award from Hudson Valley Magazine.

Each September, the hospital hosts a graduation day for former NICU patients, allowing staff to see how much they’ve grown and celebrate their progress. Rogan still remembers one youngster who was admitted to the NICU within seven hours of his birth. The boy, who suffered from a pulmonary condition, was treated with ECMO. He’s now about 8 years old, excelling in school and playing sports, Rogan says.

“I’ve kept in touch with his family,” she says. “They send me cards at Christmas.”

Watching a once critically ill baby function on his or her own without needing oxygen or a feeding tube is the best part of Christine Simpson’s job. Simpson, RN, staff nurse in the NICU, loves seeing the smile on a mother’s face when she can breastfeed her baby for the first time.

One patient, a boy born 25 weeks into his mother’s pregnancy, arrived at the NICU weighing just 1 pound, Simpson remembers. When his mom brought him to the graduation five months later, Simpson was amazed at how much he’d grown. “He looked big,” Simpson says. “It’s great to see all the kids.”

Sadly, there are times when babies don’t survive. Nurses on the unit try to do everything they can to console grieving parents, Simpson says. Parents receive a memory box containing items such as pictures, footprints, and blankets, she says.

“We try to do something special for them,” Simpson says.


Kathy Rogan, RNC
Because touch and attention are crucial to healing, the hospital offers a volunteer program to ensure infants receive plenty of love, says Elizabeth O’Neill, RNC, NICU staff nurse. Through the program, specially trained volunteers hold the babies and sing to them regularly.

“It’s wonderful for the babies,” O’Neill says. “We have a lot of families who live at a distance and are not always able to get here as much as they want.”

Kangaroo Care, a technique used in the NICU, encourages parents to hold their preemies directly to their bare skin, says Angelica Ambruoso, RN, BSN.

“The parent’s body heat keeps the baby warm,” says Ambruoso, a NICU staff nurse who works nights. “It’s a wonderful bonding experience. It’s good for the baby and the mom and dad. It’s a comforting kind of feeling.”

An important step is making parents comfortable with caring for their infant once he or she goes home. At times, Ambruoso finds herself being both a nurse and a cheerleader, instilling confidence in new parents.

“We get right in there and teach them how to take the baby’s temperature and do diapers,” Ambruoso says. “Sometimes they’re afraid. I tell them, ‘You can do it.’ From the very beginning we try to get them involved in the baby’s care.”

For Richardson, RN, BSN, the nurses at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital have helped make the difficult process of having a premature baby easier. She recalls the frightening moment when she witnessed her daughter’s heart rate drop. The nurse reassured her not to panic.

“You get nervous,” Richardson says. “The nurses are there to console you and tell you it’s OK. They bring you back to reality.”


Geneva Slupski is a freelance writer. To comment, e-mail editorNJ@nursingspectrum.com.