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UVA's NICU: Nurses, Families Share Struggles, Successes

Posted: Updated: May 12, 2016 11:03 PM
Inside UVA's NICU Inside UVA's NICU
Noelle Carroll and baby Noah Noelle Carroll and baby Noah
Lena and Farid Jazouli holding Marya in the NICU in 1995. Lena and Farid Jazouli holding Marya in the NICU in 1995.
Nurse Paula Darradji with Marya Jazouli Nurse Paula Darradji with Marya Jazouli
UVA School of Nursing Associate Dean Christine Kennedy UVA School of Nursing Associate Dean Christine Kennedy
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

Some families face a fight for survival when pregnant mothers are rushed into the delivery room prematurely. Nurses at the University of Virginia Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) say they do everything they can to make sure those babies live to see their new homes.

NBC29's Jenna Dagenhart brings us some of the inspiring stories coming from the NICU.

Delivering a baby is never easy, but for some families it can be a scary fight for survival. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in 10 mothers has a premature baby. If it is when she is between 22 and 28 weeks pregnant, then about 20 percent of those babies do not make it. The UVA NICU cares for 600 babies a year.

On April 25, 2016, Noelle Carroll delivered twins Noah and Katherine 29 weeks into her pregnancy. They weighed a total of 5 pounds, 6 ounces, much less than an average full-term baby. Katherine was only 2 pounds, 5 ounces.

Carroll is in the NICU about eight hours a day, seven days a week. She says this helps her feel like she is not missing a beat.

“The happiest part is definitely holding them, being able to do that every day because it just makes you feel like you have a full-term baby even though they're not quite,” she stated.

Back in 1995, Lena Jazouli also delivered a premature baby at 28 weeks. Her daughter, Marya Jazouli, weighed 2 pounds 14 ounces. Marya’s crib sat just feet away from where Katherine is now recovering. Twenty-one years and 121 pounds later, and Marya Jazouli is now a third-year UVA nursing student.

Paula Darradji is a nurse who cared for Marya years ago. Through her nursing school rotations, Marya says she understands what it’s like to be in Darradji’s position.

“I want to do NICU nursing when I graduate. I just think being that person for someone else will be something that I can't even imagine in the future. So hopefully I will be in Paula’s position one day,” she said.

Marya calls it her passion. “I started in the NICU and hopefully I will end in the NICU.  So I think coming full circle is what's really, really amazing for me,” she said. “The first baby that we went over to I said, ‘Wow that was me 21 years ago.’ It was amazing because the family is sitting there. I said ‘Wow that was also my parents sitting there,’ and I cannot even imagine how it was for them.”

Her parents – Lena and Farid Jazouli - remember those 66 days in the NICU well.

“They were very straightforward, they never promised anything, except that they were going to take care of her which they did, and they did a great job at that,” Farid said.

The Jazoulis are from Lebanon. “I didn't have family close by, but all the nurses, the doctors, they were wonderful, so there was family,” Lena said.

“They were really big support and we were very lucky to be in Charlottesville when this thing happened. I’m sure there are other doctors and other hospitals and other nurses that are as good, but this felt homey,” Farid stated.

Noelle Carroll’s home is in Harrisonburg. She is staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Charlottesville, allowing her to be near Noah and Katherine.

“Being able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House has been a great help, just being able to be here as much as you can and just trying to learn the balance of not burning yourself out, spending time with them and the nurses,” she stated. “This is our full-time job now - till they get out of here - and we wouldn't have it any other way.”

It is a job with no easy manual. “You know, it's different. You have wires. You have things you need to go around. Even changing the diapers around wires, I’ve put the wires in the diaper. I’ve done blood pressure wrong,” said Carroll. “They are so supportive to get you into a routine and help you figure out how to take care for [sic] a preemie.”

“A newborn intensive care unit is like a starship, it's a 24-hour seven-days-a-week very intense environment to work in,” said Christine Kennedy, an associate dean at the UVA School of Nursing. “There is an acute demand for opportunities to help replenish the workforce here in the state of Virginia, and we'd like to be able to provide that leadership and offer it to the Virginia nurses so that they don't have to go out of state for that.”

That demand is why the UVA School of Nursing is launching the state's first neonatal nurse practitioner program, and hopes to accept applications as soon as next fall. The university hopes to take 16 students in its inaugural class.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, on average, NICU nurse practitioners stay for 16 years, compared to 10 years for all other nurse practitioners. NICU nurses, who have a master's degree, have one of the highest levels of satisfaction, but they only make up 1.1 percent of all nurse practitioners.

“We want to make more because there's a huge demand. We have our nurse managers and employers from across the state of Virginia tell us it takes them anywhere from six months to one year to fill those positions,” Kennedy stated.

Marya Jazouli hopes to help fill the gap. She says she looks forward to caring for babies that can't yet breathe, nurse, or swallow on their own.

“What makes nursing worth it is just seeing the smile on people's faces and patients' family members, friends and when you are there for them and when you are caring for them and any joy you can bring to a family in the hardest part of their life is just a great feeling,” she stated.

Back in the NICU, Noelle Carroll, the new mother of twins, is already thinking about what she will do on the way home. “Probably cry tears of joy and that ride will just fly by to get them back home to the house and their nursery is all ready.”

Until, then Katherine and Noah have several more weeks in the NICU.

“I really can't thank the nurses enough just for their amazing care and just helping me through this process that is really hard to deal with sometimes.  And loving you through the hard days too.  If you are down here crying...they are still supportive of you,” Carroll said.