Claudette Theuriere was 23 years old and fresh out of nursing school when she landed her dream job: working in the neonatal intensive care unit at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “I always wanted to care for the most critical babies,” she says.
As a new staff nurse assigned to the evening shift, Theuriere recalls how her fellow nurses taught her to care for the hospital’s tiniest patients. “We were a very busy unit — busier than most shifts,” she says. “You had to be a quick learner. Thankfully, I worked with the same nurses every day. That consistency and teamwork was a lifesaver in the beginning.”
It didn’t take long, though, for Theuriere to feel at home in the NICU. “At a certain point, it just becomes a part of you,” she says. “In the NICU, you admit the baby, you care for the baby for X number of months, and then the baby goes home from here, so with every step, you get to see the baby progress and get better.”
Seeing those improvements — those small yet crucial changes in a baby’s first weeks and months — motivates her to this day. “I was lucky enough to find what I love,” says Theuriere.
Now a clinical manager responsible for overseeing the NICU where she got her start 35 years ago, Theuriere says that despite the heartbreak of losing patients, she allows herself to bond with the babies and their families. She considers it part of the job.
Two babies in particular have been a part of her life ever since they came into this world.
Harrison and Chandler (Chad) Dillingham were born in September 1999, both premature. Harrison, weighing under 1 pound, was significantly smaller than his brother.
Harrison had virtually no Apgar score — a measurement that indicates a baby’s condition right after birth. The delivery team was skeptical he would survive, but Tracy Berran, one of the neonatal nurse practitioners who helped deliver him, wouldn’t give up, doing everything she could to keep him alive. Nurses suggested using the “kangaroo method”— skin-to-skin contact with the mother, which seemed to help. Meanwhile, Chad, who was bigger at 2 pounds, 12 ounces, was placed in an incubator near his brother. Eventually, Harrison started to respond to treatment and grow stronger.
“A lot of what we do in the beginning for these little babies is keep them warm, keep them breathing and get them whatever treatment they need — whether it’s fluids, antibiotics,” Theuriere says. “They call it the golden hour in neonatology — getting these things to babies as quickly as you can to keep them alive.”