Laurie Ketterl, R.N., is known around the neonatal intensive care unit at Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb., as being particularly deft with technology. The NICU nurse manager uses her iPad to take notes on her rounds. More significantly, she successfully advocated for a new charting system called Crib Notes that sends parents pictures and notes written in the first person from the baby.
"I probably push the limits a little bit," Ketterl confesses. "Like, 'I know this sounds weird, but this is how this would benefit us. Please, can we try?' "
Ketterl's most heart-tugging technological feat happened last year, when a patient with Crohn's disease, Kelly Steeby, had a particularly difficult birth. Her baby, a boy named Greyson, was premature.
"We thought it was going to be a standard 29-weeker, no big deal," says Ketterl. But then when they opened the mother up, she had a serious infection.
Her life in danger, Steeby was sent to the adult ICU in another building. "It just really got to me that she might not even get to see Greyson once," says Ketterl.
Ketterl understands maternal loss; she lost her 11-year-old daughter to cancer. "Maybe it's different for me, but it was really important to me that we figure out some way" for Kelly to make contact with her baby.
It occurred to Ketterl that they might use Facetime, the iPad video-calling app, to connect mother and son. Luckily, a co-worker, Amanda Baker, R.N., had her iPad in her locker "and got them connected so we could call each other."
Ketterl then contacted ICU manager Mona Reynolds to see if Steeby was awake. "They didn't think [the call] would work, because she was going to surgery and had just been given medication," says Ketterl. "Then Mona called me back and said, 'Oh my God, she is wide awake.' And I said, "I will be right over.' "
Ketterl handed her iPad to Greyson's ICU nurse and headed over to the other building to direct the call with mom.
"I told her that this is as close as I can get Greyson to you, and I think he'll know that you're there," Ketterl recalls. "She was able to give him a little kiss on the iPad, and he kind of flinched at the same time. She said, 'Yes, I think he got that kiss.' She looked at all those fingers and toes. She never took her eyes off of him."
Later that day, Ketterl asked the head of the hospital's foundation if the NICU could get a couple of iPads for similar situations. Several months later, the foundation granted the request for two iPads, which they use when sick parents are separated from their newborns or to connect young siblings when one is staying in the unit. They also set up Facetime and Skype calls for parents at home and unable to be in the ICU.
Beckie Trevino, R.N., another of Ketterl's co-workers, was a nursery nurse during the delivery that day. "I knew that family really well, and what Laurie did touched me," she says. "She does things like that all the time. Every day we have a new baby in the NICU, she takes a picture of the baby and puts it in a frame, and writes [the parents] a note: "Josie looked really cute today."
Trevino immediately thought of Ketterl last year when she stumbled upon a nomination form for an Inspired Comfort Award from Cherokee Uniforms for "health care providers who demonstrate exceptional care." "She's an excellent nurse clinically, but she really goes beyond that and makes sure the families know that they are just as important as our babies." Ketterl received the award last fall.
Thankfully, more than a year after Greyson Steeby's birth and NICU ordeal, both mom and son are doing well. "I would do that 100 times over for other families," says Ketterl. "That, I guess, filled my bucket. It's what makes you come back to work every day and give the best that you can."