Connected Since Birth: A Nurse’s Story

Born six weeks early, Emmy Pereira immediately had trouble breathing and needed the care of an expert Neonatologist. She was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, where, her mother says, doctors saved her life.

Fast forward about 40 years. Pereira has been a nurse at that same NICU for the past 10 years and is now a supervisor.

“It’s a running joke that I’m working with people who once changed my diaper,” Pereira says. “And I’m sure some of them really did.”

But, all joking aside, she recognizes the invaluable knowledge she has gained from working alongside nurses with decades of experience. “They have not only taught me how to excel at typical nursing tasks but also to have compassion and see things from the parent’s viewpoint,” she says.

This is something Pereira can do all too well. Five years ago, shortly after her son was born, he needed emergency surgery at UCSF Benioff Oakland and stayed in the NICU. As the East Bay’s only Level IV NICU, the unit serves about 450 babies each year from throughout Northern California, who often arrive clinging to life.

Understanding the parent’s perspective firsthand gave Pereira a new depth of appreciation for her colleagues.

“The nurses would say, ‘When is the last time you ate? Do you need to take a rest? He’s safe with us – go get fresh air,’” she recalls. “I do the same things for parents all the time, but it meant so much to me to hear it. I don’t know if we as nurses realize what an impact we make.”

While our neonatal care is nationally recognized for its contributions to research and specialized care techniques, Pereira believes its family-centered model is what truly sets it apart.

“Our families have trust in us to take care of their babies, who are more precious to them than anything, and it’s wonderful to have that trust,” Pereira says. “But we also make them an active member of the team and teach them how to care for their babies.”

For Pereira, connecting to families in that way is most meaningful aspect of her work.

“You are there for all these firsts that they ideally should experience at home – their first time holding their baby, the first bath,” she says. “But they welcome you with open arms into their family, and that’s amazing.”