Nurses are a bit notorious for going the extra mile for their patients, but one nurse in particular may just take the cake — the graduation cake, that is — for going above and beyond for her tiny patients.
Melissa Jordan, 28, a neonatal intensive care nurse from CaroMont Hospital in North Carolina, started working in the NICU about two-and-a-half years ago in part because she says she loves to be involved with the families of the patients she cares for. With most infants staying an average of one to two months, they get to know each other well. “It’s very easy to bond with families,” Jordan remarks. “You build lifelong relationships with these people.”
And one patient in particular stood out to Jordan for his resilience. As a Tier III NICU, CaroMont tends to care for babies who are born around 32 to 34 weeks and send babies born before 28 weeks gestation to more specialized hospitals. But Baby Wyatt was born at 29 weeks, so he was on the cusp of what the hospital is usually able to treat. “He had a long road ahead of him,” explains Jordan.
Wyatt required learning basic skills, like learning how to eat and maintain his heart rate. He also needed to be sent home on oxygen. Jordan explains that the family had brought in a onesie that read “NICU Grad” in anticipation of his discharge, but they were having mixed emotions about him going home on so many monitors and oxygen.
So the caring nurse went home and began brainstorming ways she could help the family ease the transition from hospital to home and researched ways to make graduation hats. “I made the first one out of good ol’ construction paper,” Jordan says with a laugh. “I just wanted to make something special for them for the day when it finally arrived,” she says.
On the day of Wyatt’s “graduation,” the whole staff of nurses gathered together and went in with the family singing the “Graduation” song by Vitamin C and gave everyone their hats. The nurses, led by Jordan, were able to put the family’s fears to rest and celebrate how far Wyatt had come.
“They were smiling ear to ear,” remembers Jordan. “They were so happy and it made me want to keep doing it.”
Inspired by Wyatt’s family’s reaction to his graduation ceremony, Jordan decided to do more graduation ceremonies for babies who were born six weeks or more early. She partnered with Bella Baby Photography, a local photography business from Charlotte, North Carolina, that provides newborn pictures to every baby born at the hospital. Before long, every baby graduate is able to star in his or her own personal graduation photo shoot.
Now, Bella Baby Photography provides an entire graduation photo shoot and photos to the family of the NICU graduates for free, which the families have found to be the perfect way to commemorate how far their little ones have come.
“It felt like it signified an ending to one journey and a beginning of another,” NICU parents Matthew and Monica Becton said.
Babies born six weeks or more early are candidates to “graduate” from the hospital. The ceremony generally includes the parents or caregivers, along with the nurse. Siblings are usually restricted from the NICU due to risk of illnesses to the baby, but Jordan has, on at least one occasion, babysat a sibling so the mother could attend the graduation ceremony. This is just another way she goes all in for the patients she spends her days with.
Jordan treats the babies she cares for has her own. “These are my children, these are my babies,” she says. All the nurses get to know their patients so well, and even at young ages, their personalities and traits shine through very clearly.
Wyatt, as the hospital’s first graduate, was particularly fond of his food and would let it be known if his nurses were late to his feeding. “Boy, you’d better get in that room when he was ready to eat,” she laughs.
To date, 14 babies, including three sets of twins, have graduated from the NICU and have gone on to in the next stage of their young lives. The babies’ hats have graduated from being made of construction paper to foam paper to make them a little more sturdy. Jordan says she would love to have anyone in the area donate craft supplies so she could up the ante of the hats even more and transform them into a keepsake parents can keep for a long time. Other staff have joined in to help her make the hats and Jordan hopes that other hospitals will adapt her idea and host graduation ceremonies of their own.
Jordan, along with the rest of the team at CaroMont, plan to create a wall of NICU graduates in their hospital to help inspire families who are just coming into the nursery realize there is hope for their little one.
“Hopefully they can see that these babies are fine, so their babies will be fine,” she says. “I hope it brings families joy.”