(Joplin, MO) – Cake, punch, and snacks are simple rewards for the nursing staff who care around the clock for Freeman Health System’s tiniest patients. Infants in Freeman Neonatal Intensive Care Unit are fragile patients receiving care based on the newest science in medicine. Freeman celebrates the efforts of the nurses who care for them each September.
“Even in the 1960s, babies died from conditions that are very treatable today,” says Kelley Miller, RN, Freeman Health System Neonatal Nurse. “President Kennedy lost a baby, Patrick, while in the White House. His baby was only 5.5 weeks early, but he died of premature lungs, which is something we can treat well now. I can take a sick or premature infant and care for them. I can help them grow. I can teach parents how to care for babies when they go home. I make families.”
Miller says being a neonatal nurse is rewarding because she gets to use her mind and all her education to care for the babies.
“I do not have a patient that can talk to me,” Miller explains. “I must use all my knowledge about disease process, my assessment skills and my instincts to care for these infants. These babies can be well one moment and on death’s doorstep in literally a matter of minutes. Being attuned or not to subtle changes can result in life or death.”
Miller also assists parents through the highs and lows of their stay. She says, “No one believes that they will be in the NICU – that their baby will be born early or sick. These parents needs people they can trust to help them and their baby get through a NICU stay.”
Miller, who started her career as a cardiac intensive care nurse, says she didn’t choose the field of neonatology, but that it chose her.
“I had my own twins 13 weeks early. Prior to that, I really did not know anything about NICU,” Miller says. “In nursing school, we never set foot in the unit. The first time I experience the NICU was the day before I delivered.”
Miller says she was shocked by how many babies needed the unit and that level of care. Her twins spent 10 weeks in the NICU.
“In that time, I saw how the nurses worked, how they cared for my babies as if they were their own and also helped me grow as a parent,” Miller says. “I saw the hours the doctor and neonatal nurse practitioners put into watching my babies, making sure they stayed healthy, making sure they grew and spending the time with me and my husband to help us understand what was happening. We saw good and bad outcomes, and all the while the staff of the NICU supported one another, sharing successes and comfort, when needed. They were a family. I wanted that environment.”
Miller and other neonatal nurses realize there are challenges to working with premature infants who will often have lifelong issues due to their prematurity or illness at birth. She says in all medicine, it’s important to have a passion for what you do, and she found hers in the NICU.
“I wanted to know that I could use my nursing talent and knowledge to help the smallest, sickest infants,” Miller says. “I also wanted to know that I was never alone – that my coworkers would be my ‘family.’ And that is exactly what I got. I found my passion. Out of one of the hardest moments in my life – having barely two-pound babies that I had to leave in someone else’s care for 10 weeks – came a desire to help others through that process. To make a family.”
The Freeman Health System Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a 24-bed unit with board-certified neonatologists specializing in the care of critically ill or premature babies. The secure, web-based Angle Eye Camera®️ system, allows parents to remotely see their child via a live feed. Freeman NICU has operated for more than 25 years.
About Freeman Health System
Locally owned, not-for-profit and nationally recognized, Freeman Health System includes Freeman Hospital West, Freeman Hospital East, Freeman Neosho Hospital and Ozark Center – the area’s largest provider of behavioral health services – as well as two urgent care clinics, dozens of physician clinics and a variety of specialty services. In 2019, Freeman earned dozens of individual awards for medical excellence and patient safety from CareChex®, a quality rating system that helps consumers evaluate healthcare providers. U.S. News & World Report named Freeman Health System the Best Hospital in Southwest Missouri for 2019. With more than 300 physicians on staff representing more than 70 specialties, Freeman provides cancer care, heart care, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopaedics, children’s services and women’s services. Additionally, Freeman is the only Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in a 70-mile radius. For more information, visit freemanhealth.com.
Lisa Olliges, Marketing and Media Relations Coordinator
Freeman Health System