Ashley Morales is a nurse in the Beeghly campus neonatal intensive-care unit, but rewind nearly 29 years ago and she was a NICU patient herself after being delivered at just 28 weeks at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital among a set of triplets.
One of her siblings passed away 12 hours after birth, and Morales and her identical twin sister Amanda spent 3 months in the unit.
Morales is pregnant herself now with her first child, a boy, due in late May.
The sisters, their mother and the new arrival plan to be among an expected 300 parents, children and hospital staff attending the June 20 reunion – a celebration of life for the many “graduates” who’ve been treated at area NICUs and special care nurseries.
Activities being planned for the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. reunion include a group walk, children’s games and activities, food, DJ, clown, car seat safety checks, an appearance by the Akron Children’s Doggie Brigade and a “selfie spot” for parents to take photos of their children wearing NICU graduation caps.
Among the nurses who took care of Morales when she was born is her nurse manager today, Mary Ellen Michael. Some others are still in the unit, as well, and many still remember her being born.
Her colleagues today, who call themselves “NICU grandmothers” in anticipation of baby boy Morales, recognize her special ability to connect with the families.
“Having spent time as a baby in the NICU I’m often brought into rooms to see patients and help assure them there are positive outcomes,” Morales said. “It’s truly a humbling experience being able to empathize with the patient families and help them realize there is hope for their child.
“I try to stay positive with the families, and it works wonders when I tell them I was a preemie myself. We encourage them to stay strong and stay positive, and that it’s a day-by-day process.”
Morales said the technology and medical advances in the NICU have come a long way since she was there as a child, but what hasn’t changed is the unique way families who’ve spent time in the NICU bond with one another and the hospital staff.
“What I always envied when I first started were the connections and memories the older nurses had with families who came back and visited the unit – which we love – and now that I’ve been here a few years I’m starting to see some of the families who I helped,” Morales said.
“A mother once told me ‘I will never forget that day when you came in the room,'” she added. “In their mind their world is crumbling, yet when you see that relief on their faces after you walk in the room you know you had an impact on them.”
Now due with her own child after recently completing a master’s degree to become a neonatal nurse practitioner, Morales looks forward to the bond she’ll have with her little boy.
“There’s no better relationship than a mother and child,” she said.