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Kathleen Murphy, NP, hugs her niece Claire, who spent the first 103 days of her life in the NICU, where Murphy is a nurse practitioner.
Sisters and BWH nurses Kathleen Murphy, NP, and Mary Aquilino, RN, see the world-class care their colleagues provide every day. But last year, they witnessed that compassion, kindness and skill from another perspective as their sister, Eileen Wedegartner, and her daughter, Claire, received life-saving care at BWH.
Aquilino will never forget the look of fear on Wedegartner’s face the night in November that she underwent an emergency cesarean section at BWH to deliver her baby at 26 weeks.
“Eileen thought she was going to lose her baby,” said Aquilino, a nurse in the Cardiac Surgery Intensive Care Unit. “She’ll tell you it was the worst night of her life.”
But Claire, who weighed just two pounds at birth, persevered, overcoming sepsis, enduring heart surgery and spending her first 103 days of life in the NICU, where Murphy is a nurse practitioner.
“It was very comforting to know that the people who take such good care of babies every day would be there to take care of my niece,” Murphy said. “I’ve seen that staff perform miracles, and I knew they would do no less for her. I trust my colleagues ultimately.”
Just two months after Claire’s birth, Wedegartner felt an intense pain in her chest while getting ready for work one morning. “I figured I was having an anxiety attack because of all the stress,” she said.
But by 6 p.m., she was in the BWH Cardiac Catheterization Lab having four stents placed in her heart. Some of Aquilino’s friends were working in the Cath Lab and recovery room that night, and shared her sister’s messages with Wedegartner.
“I asked them to whisper in her ear that she was going to be all right,” Aquilino recalled.
While recovering on Shapiro 8 and talking on the phone with Aquilino the next day, Wedegartner suddenly felt dizzy and hung up the phone. “I went into ventricular fibrillation,” she said, explaining that she had suffered cardiac arrest from another coronary dissection to her right coronary artery. “They had to resuscitate me.”
Wedegartner needed to stay in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center to recover for longer than she had hoped. She was anxious to get home to her husband, Ian, and her two-year-old son, Charlie, and to spend time in the NICU with Claire.
Knowing how much Wedegartner worried about her daughter, the nurses in the NICU and Shapiro 9 worked together to arrange daily visits for mother and daughter.
“I think that was what helped Eileen and Claire heal,” Aquilino said. “The care she and her baby received from our institution was all-encompassing. They took care of the whole person, not just the medical conditions.”
Wedegartner agrees. “I felt like everyone here was invested in me and the best outcome for my baby and for us as a family unit,” she said. “And it wasn’t just the doctors and nurses—it was everyone we came into contact with.”
She recalled a day when the parking garage was full, and the valet attendant took her car anyway because she was going to the NICU to see her daughter. “That meant the world to me,” she said. “That kindness is what we found throughout the hospital, from the valet, to the guards at the security desks, to our care providers. For a patient, it means everything.”
Claire was able to leave the NICU last March and, like her mother, has been happy and healthy ever since.
“She’s our little miracle,” Aquilino said. “For me, it was a wonderful experience to be on the other side of the incredible care our institution gives every day. Every department involved got Eileen and Claire to where they are today: living happy, normal lives.”
From left, Claire Wedegartner, Kathleen Murphy, Mary Aquilino and Charlie, Eileen and Ian Wedegartner.
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