The RN Preemie Who Cares for Preemies and Sometimes Even Their Preemies



When Joan Cordes was born on Mother's Day 63 years ago, it was a happy day tinged with tragedy. A preemie at 30 weeks, she and her very sick mom were not expected to live. "They had to baptize me in the delivery room since everyone thought I would die," recalled Joan. But heroics ensued, 1945-style, and Joan and her mom, who had toxemia, miraculously made it out of that Ottawa hospital.

Fast-forward to 2008 and Joan's still wrapped in a world of epic attempts to save babies that arrive too early. For 41 years, Joan's been taking care of preemies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), first at Stanford Hospital and since 1991 at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. "I like taking care of all our preemies," said Joan, "but my favorites are the tiniest ones, the micro-preemies. It's probably because I started life the same way."

In what could be a multi-generational first, Joan has even cared for preemies born to ex-patients. "We've kept up through reunions, cards and messages, so I guess it was bound to happen. It's pretty emotional." Joan's specialty is Primary Nursing, which allows her to stay with a baby and family from their stressed-out arrival until they happily go home, which can be up to 15 weeks. "This consistency keeps Joan in tune with the subtle changes in a baby's progress," said Diane Galazzo, nurse manager, "and plays a big role in a baby's recovery."

The arc of Joan's life reflects a modern history of neonatal care. She's witnessed remarkable changes. "The ventilators, beds, catheters, technology and monitoring are now all high-tech," said Joan, who added that back in 1945 her parents were not allowed to lay a hand on her for 2½ months. "Now, it's just the opposite. Families are encouraged, through research and Family Centered Care, to touch and hold their babies right away."

William Benitz, MD, chief of neonatology, is a big fan. He believes Joan brings a perfect mix of old and new learnings. "When Joanie started, the technologies we take for granted now mostly didn't exist. But she's kept up in her very modest, quiet and effective way," said Benitz, who is also the Philip Sunshine, MD, Endowed Professor in Neonatology. And according to Sunshine himself, who's been taking care of newborns for over 50 years, "Joan's just one of the best. She really knows how to be a patient advocate, and when she talks, we doctors listen."

Caring for extremely sick babies and their very worried families is tough and emotional work, so Joan normally unwinds by reading a book or taking a walk. But recently she relaxed by taking her first-ever trip to Vegas. While what happened there may be staying there (OK, slots!), Joan is not shy about sharing what happens in the world of NICU nursing.

"It may be destiny because of how I started life. I don't know for certain. But I do know that caring for babies in the NICU makes me a part of a remarkable team that's saving smaller and smaller babies and with better and better outcomes every year. And that's what keeps me going."

Copyright 2008- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

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