Adventist Health Lodi Memorial Brand New NICU Celebrates Very 1st Graduates

Last March, Adventist Health Lodi Memorial graduated their very first class of NICU babies. The hospital introduced their brand new NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) to the community on December 26, 2018, after a lot of work from the Lodi Memorial foundation and the Adventist Health nurses. At the end of March, the very first graduating class of babies were being celebrated at the hospital. Proud mommies and daddies and their babies, who were dressed in caps and gowns, made their way down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance to pick up their diplomas and roses. Nurses from the NICU department stood by beaming, and a short and beautiful speech was given by the hospital’s Chaplain, Chris Hagen. “You know they say that the tiniest feet create the biggest footprints on our hearts,” he said. “So moms and dads and our graduates, your tiny footprints have a left huge footprints on our hearts. You have inspired us.”

Getting to this graduation moment started a couple of years ago with a vision for Adventist Health Lodi Memorial to have its own NICU unit. Valerie Stump is the Director and Kathy is the Asst. Director. They’ve been working hard, alongside the Lodi Memorial Foundation and the hospital, to get this NICU unit up and running. They’ve been at all the fundraising events, all the trainings, all the brainstormings, and they’ve been front and center to answer all of the community’s questions. Our community saw the need and raised a generous $600,000 in order to get a NICU unit in Lodi. Valerie and Kathy shared the department’s state-of-the-art equipment and their unique partnership with UC Davis Medical Center.

“We’re just really excited and proud,” shared Valerie. “I want people to know we can provide that service now in our community. All of our staff have been trained. They have gone to UC Davis and trained with the nurses up there. We’re going to send them back for more training, too. When we first went to a level II NICU we decided we would do it in stages. We worked very closely with the neonatologists and pediatricians from UC Davis because everyone needs to be comfortable before they’re taking care of sick babies.’ 

“Then the other thing that we have, that I don’t know if people know about is, we have something called telemedicine,” Valerie continued. “We call it the peanut. It’s a computer screen and when we have a sick baby we call UC Davis. A neonatologist gets on and they can see our baby, they can see our bed with all the gauges and monitors and they can talk us through things. That’s how we do morning rounds. When we have a really sick baby and we’re placing lines and things, even when we’re transporting the baby, we get a neonatologist from UC Davis on the line. It’s literally a phone call. You touch the screen and somebody gets on there. They’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So that’s a wonderful support. And then every morning at 10:00 we do morning rounds so the neonatologist from UC Davis, the pediatrician that’s here, the parents, the nurses, and any ancillary support system, so like, a dietitian, respiratory therapy, could be there, it just depends. They come on the peanut and they just do rounds. They see the babies, they talk to the families and everybody is on the same page.”

Valerie and Kathy are so excited to be able to offer this service in our community and, most importantly, it’s abundantly clear they love their patients. As a mom to young kids, I absolutely got the vibe that if one of my kids was near me they would swoop them up and love on them. 

“Actually getting to keep our first baby was a huge thing. Seeing parents get to come in and out. Seeing the success stories,” these are Valerie’s favorite parts of having the NICU open. “We really bond. Then we had another baby here and he was just the most darling baby, and you fall in love with them. And then it’s time for the babies to go home and you don’t want them to go home.” “The baby we have now, we’ve spent so much time with him, I’m going to cry when he leaves,” agreed Kathy. “Of course I want him to go home but I’m going to miss him a lot. We get attached.” Valerie pointed to a beautiful bottle sterilizer sitting behind her desk. “You can see over there that’s the sterilizer we bought for the little guy who’s in here now,” she said. “One of my charge nurses has it and I figured if it was good enough for her it was good enough for this baby. Just this morning I brought in a mobile. He’s looking around and becoming alert so he needs something to focus on. We’re going to have to take out a loan to keep spoiling these babies,” she laughed. “But that’s just how our department is. We really love and care for these babies.”

“You know it takes a village,” said Valerie. “If you have other children and you live here and your husband is working, you’re trying to go up there. If you’re trying to breastfeed your baby, plus you yourself just had a baby, it makes it very difficult. That’s why this is such a great thing for our community. And we allow moms to room in so if they’re only going to be here a couple of days we’ll give them a room so they’re close to the baby. If the baby is here for a long period of time, we’ll bring the parents back for one or two nights just so that they know the routine and they’re comfortable taking care of the baby.”

Hosting the NICU graduation ceremony was Valerie and Kathy’s idea. Kathy had twin granddaughters born prematurely. They spent quite a bit of time in the NICU before they were eventually released. When they were finally given the okay to go home, her grandbabies were given a little ceremony with those gowns and cap and Pomp and Circumstance. “It just touched me. I mean you get the tears and it’s just so neat and we thought, how could we do that here for our families? So we decided to make our own little ceremony,” said Kathy. “We’re big on parties and we love graduation,” agreed Valerie. “I don’t have young babies anymore, so my kids, when they graduated from high school, there were actually three days of ceremonies. Friday night they always recognize the parents; they actually give them flowers and do a little tribute. Now obviously these babies can’t do a little tribute but I’ve ordered flowers for all of the moms.”

Now fast forward back to the ceremony. Nine adorable babies paraded through Adventist Health Lodi Memorial in their cute little graduation caps and gowns. There were cookies on the tables with the baby's names, beautiful balloon decorations, and family and staff were packed into the cafeteria to watch as the babies and their families were recognized. 

The hospital's Chaplain, Chris Hagen, gave the speech. “To our NICU staff, your love inspires us. I was visiting the nurses and hearing our NICU staff share that this is not just a job. We treat these babies as if they’re our own... To hear the nurses reflect and say, ‘You know what? When I’m holding their little baby and I think to myself, someday, I’m going to see you in the grocery store and someday I’m going to see you and you will never know. You will never know that I loved you and you loved me.’ That bond, the willingness of our staff to say, ‘I’m willing to come in with my heart. I’m willing to come in and serve with my heart and bond to our babies.’ That takes courage and that takes strength, and to our staff, that inspires us.”