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Elizabeth Wertz, a NICU nurse and clinical educator at IU Health North started life in a NICU. Now she’s expecting her first child and says she tries to relate to what it’s like to be a parent or patient on the other side of the isolette.
Twenty-six weeks. That’s when Elizabeth Wertz and her twin sister Jennifer decided to enter the world.
“I was in the NICU for a couple months. My twin sister passed at two days old. There wasn’t as much NICU technology back then and it was rare that I survived at 26 weeks. Now lots of 26-weekers survive even with challenges,” said Wertz. The reality of those challenges is something she faces daily as a nurse and clinical educator at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health North.
When her parents Lou and Judy Lenzi raced to the hospital there was no warning. It just happened early. They were living in New York at the time. “We never figured out why. There were no risk factors,” said Wertz. “Mom went into pre-term labor, they put her in an ambulance and shipped her to the closest hospital.”
Wertz was only intubated for a week – somewhat unusual for a preemie so young. “I have a little chest tube scar but for me I was lucky. I got to go home at 34 weeks. I did pretty well for a NICU baby in 1985.” Her parents documented the journey with a series of photos – treasured by Wertz even more today as a NICU nurse and a newly expectant mother. She and her husband John are expecting their first child in October.
“People not familiar with NICU say it must be tough. It can be tough. It has its moments but it is also very rewarding. Every day is potentially the worst day of someone’s life even if their child will be OK, but we also get to see kiddos when mom gets to hold them for the first time or they take a bottle for the first time or when they get to go home.”
The experience is one that Wertz would never have guessed as a career choice years ago.
“Honestly, never in a million years did I think I’d become a nurse. I didn’t like shots and hospitals,” said Wertz, who attended Purdue University. While an undergraduate in neurobiology and physiology with a concentration in research, she took a night class to become an EMT. She loved the experience so much that she put in extra hours to learn more about patient care. Shortly after graduation, she enrolled in the accelerated nursing program at IUPUI and shadowed a NICU nurse.
“I loved the combination of ICU and helping these little newborns thrive. I immediately started wondering what I needed to do to be hired as a student nurse.” She was so sure of herself that she walked right up and knocked on the door of the manager at Methodist Hospital’s NICU and was hired shortly afterward. After taking her first nursing job at Methodist, she later went to Riley to work in NICU, picked up shifts with LifeLine, and worked in the Riley PICU. She started at IU Health North in the NICU three years ago. Last May she became a clinical educator and is in graduate school studying to become a pediatric Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS).
Last year, she was back in New York and returned to the hospital where she was born to meet some of the nurses who cared for her. And again at a nursing conference she met other nurses who cared for her.
“The nurses and doctors are a big reason I am here now,” said Wertz. “When I have patients and their families in the NICU, I know that I didn’t know what my parents experienced, but I do know everything we do, affects those babies for the rest of their lives – from dimming the lights, to how we touch and turn them. Part of what we’re here for is to teach parents who have never had a preemie how to care for their baby, and I always keep that in mind.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health. Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.