The Baby that Brought Us Together: My Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Story
By Jamie Huynh
NANN Footprints: Stories from the NICU February 2020
I was a senior at Bellingham High School in 1996-1997. I knew I wanted to be a nurse and was taking classes through Running Start to get a jump on that and utilize the benefit of minimal cost college classes. My guidance counselor let me know about a memorial scholarship opportunity that was suddenly being offered for a senior at Bellingham High School interested in pursuing a career in nursing. I got letters of recommendation, had my transcripts printed off, and wrote a heartfelt essay for the application. There was a small handful of applicants being considered, and the family chose me! My dream got brighter as I realized I could now attend a bachelor’s nursing program instead of an associate’s. I was so thankful!
A couple of months later, there was an awards banquet. I was 17 years old, naïve, and excited to receive my scholarship alongside many other lucky recipients of those funded by local foundations and clubs. After a few presentations, a family was brought to the front of the room and the room grew quiet. I recall a teary woman and a handsome man with sad eyes who held a baby girl in his arms and a small boy by the hand. The speaker told a story about Liz, a loving mother and wife who was working to become a nurse when her life was cut short by leukemia. Her relatives wanted to make that dream come true for someone else in her honor. My head hung and my heart hurt. It was me, that was me. I felt confused and ashamed about feeling so grateful and happy only due to the pain and loss of another family. I stood tall, humbly accepted the award, and then tucked those feelings away, not knowing quite what to do with them.
Fast forward through the next few years. I finished my AA degree with my nursing prerequisites at WCC and transferred to a branch campus of WSU in Yakima, WA that was just for nursing. I went there alone knowing no one. I lived on my own, worked part time, and grew up a lot. I graduated in December 2000 with my BSN and moved back to the west side of the mountains. My parents had an announcement printed in the local newspaper sharing my graduation, publicly thanking and remembering Liz Mitchell Lovell and her family. Within three weeks, I started my first and current nursing job working at Providence Hospital in Everett in the Pediatric and Newborn Intensive Care units. I reflected on how grateful I was to have been given this opportunity for my education. That year I wrote a Christmas card to the family that provided the funding for my scholarship and to Liz’s mom. I wanted them to know that I was appreciative of the gift they gave during such a difficult time. I wanted them to know I graduated and was now happily employed in the career of my dreams. Their money was put to good use and I would work to honor Liz in all that I did, I wouldn't forget. I asked that they let her husband know as well, but I didn’t have any contact information for him.
In the few years that followed, I married my high school sweetheart and we had two children, a son and a daughter. Every year I continued to write those Christmas cards and each year now came with a deeper understanding and empathy. Having become a wife and a mother of two, I now had what Liz had, and had lost. I couldn’t even fathom that scenario. I thought of her husband Barry, and those sweet young children and my heart ached. My cards weren’t returned, so I assumed they’d been delivered and a couple of times I received a kind note from her mother. I told her I carried Liz’s light within me and would continue the work she didn’t get to do.
It is now October 2019. I turned 40 this year and have two teenagers in high school. I have midlife emotional moments and am thinking deeper about faith and life in general. I still work in the NICU at Providence in Everett. With my part-time schedule, I am often in charge or a flex nurse. I attend deliveries, help with admissions, and assist with procedures - basically running around the unit. I check in with each family and try to provide support but VERY rarely have the opportunity to provide full patient care to the same babies, especially for a couple of days in a row.
That’s part of what made a particular Tuesday and Wednesday special. One baby I took care of those days was Juliet. She was transferred to us from an emergency room an hour away and was very ill with a virus. She worried me. I took cautious care of her among a couple of other babies, for two very busy days. I connected with her parents and was pleased to see her starting to turn the corner as my second shift came to an end.
I had clocked out for the day and was waiting for my carpool partner to finish giving report. We were running late. While I waited, Kyra, Juliet’s mom struck up a conversation with me and I gave her an update regarding her baby. She was excited that her husband’s family was on their way in to visit. At that moment, they came through the doors and we were introduced. All of a sudden, I couldn’t hear anything around me, my eyes locked with a familiar face from the past. I recognized Barry right away, but my brain was flashing through so many thoughts about how this was really happening, I couldn’t pull everything together. He stared at me too. “Do I know you?” he asked, but I could tell it wasn’t really a question.
“Yes,” was all I could reply. His family quickly offered suggestions of how that could be, but he just shook his head still looking at me.
“I know you,” he said. “Did you receive a nursing scholarship in 1997?”
I nodded my head as tears filled my eyes and poured down my cheeks. His wife, Shawna, was the first to put it all together and threw her arms around me in the most loving embrace crying “It was you, it was you?!”
We all hugged and cried and answered each other’s questions. I think that was the first time Tyler had heard of that scholarship. It took that long for me to put together that Tyler, the dad of that baby I had cared for the past two days, was that sweet small three year old boy, who held onto his father’s hand while I was presented a full nursing scholarship in his mother’s name. Juliet Elizabeth Lovell was the granddaughter of the woman whose light I promised to always carry within me. That light shone brighter than ever and I was overcome with emotion. It’s hard to describe the gratitude I feel for having the privilege to care for this specific baby and family. A circle was connected, my heart content, and my quest to honor Liz felt served.
Call it what you want: serendipity, a miracle, a God moment, or coincidence. I have never felt a stronger presence of the connections in life, love, and faith.
Top image: Jamie with Juliet in the NICU in October 2019.
This amazing story was also shared by the Today Show.