Every day in the NICU presents stressful situations, and Joe relies on his calm demeanor and glass-half-full attitude to keep families optimistic. He takes it one step at a time and reassures parents by focusing on the good things — the baby is breathing, the heart is pumping. If the situation turns tragic, he makes it his mission to give families as much of “the baby experience” as he can in whatever short time they have left.
Thankfully, the amount of happiness and positive outcomes far outweigh the heartbreak on the unit. Throughout his NICU career, Joe has witnessed rapid developments in medicine and technology to help early babies survive.
“This unit is helping to create families that wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago. When I first started, 27 weeks was the earliest babies could live — now we’re up to 23, or 22 and 6 (days),” he said. “These days, it’s very rare that babies don’t make it once they get into the NICU.”
Feeding babies, when they can finally take a bottle rather than being tube-fed, is Joe’s favorite part of caring for NICU babies. He oversees the Donor Breast Milk Program for the unit, which is a complex operation, as Maryland considers donor milk a tissue. The process involves coordinating deliveries, ordering an ample supply, completing paperwork for each baby, and more, but it’s all worth it. “I can finally feel like I’m giving them some comfort when they get to come off of an IV and start taking breast milk. It’s a real bonding experience.”
Currently, Joe is working towards his Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. Though he plans to continue his education, there’s no career change in sight. He considers himself “NICU for life.” “This is just a happy place to work because everyone keeps a positive outlook,” he said. “Yes, there can be problems, but we can work through and solve most of them. There’s always good there if you look for it.”