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As a neonatal intensive care unit nurse at CoxHealth for seven years, Emily Matheson has worked many emotionally and physically draining shifts. But she says she’ll never forget one night of work last year.
“I had the honor to be chosen by God to be the one to get to rock a baby to heaven,” she says. “Due to medical and emotional reasons, the parents were unable to be there. So, as her nurse, I was there for her from the moment she arrived in the world and until the very moment in which she left.”
Matheson displays an impression of that baby’s footprints on her fridge at home as a reminder of the sacredness of life and the importance of her work. She says her role can be underappreciated until people find themselves with a baby they love in desperate need of care.
“I provide care for babies that have been born at the very cusp of viability – 22 weeks gestation. And I have cared for babies that are born at term but, due to many different circumstances, become ill,” she says. “I have the privilege of providing care to our most precious and vulnerable patient population.”
She says NICU nurses are sometimes mistaken as having the cushy job of holding infants and are not taken as seriously as other intensive care units. While she says feeding and comforting infants is part of the work, it’s a daunting task to care for sick infants, especially when some of the babies are going through drug withdrawal.
Matheson says she has a high-stress job, but every time she sees one of her patients, whom she calls “miracles,” it motivates her to work even harder.
As a charge nurse on her floor, she mentors younger nurses and recently helped update the 20-week training process for new NICU nurses.
To help strengthen her team, she also established a debrief committee as a way for her colleagues to come together to discuss if there has been a death, medical emergency, emotional situation or conflict within the department.
“Having a safe place where any member of the team can feel like they are free and open to communicate any issues will help all of us learn, grow and move forward,” she says. “We work in a high-stress and high-emotional environment, and there needs to be an allowance for people to discuss any issues, concerns and/or emotions that are weighing on them.”
Her supervisor, Glenda Headlee, says Matheson’s “empathetic servant’s heart” was rewarded with a CoxHealth Daisy Award for Extraordinary Nurses, as well as a Prestigious Partners Award for co-workers who go above and beyond for patients and co-workers.
“She works well with her peers and is an example to all, whether in professional practice, delegation skills or her holistic approach to patients and their families,” Headlee says. “She is also actively involved in unit-based committees to research and promote best practice in the care of our most vulnerable population.”
Outside of work, Matheson is an active participant in Pregnancy Care Center’s Walk for Life and volunteers with Diaper Bank of the Ozarks and her church’s nursery.
Matheson says she always felt a calling to care for babies. Earlier this year, she experienced a deeper appreciation for her role after her now 8-month-old son was born early and spent a week in the NICU.
“I personally know the lasting impression that a NICU nurse can have on your heart,” she says.
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