The neonatal intensive care unit is not a usual place for reunions. Still, it became one when a NICU nurse and a former preemie she cared for 33 years ago crossed paths once again!
On January 30, Zayne Alexander Caldwell was born at Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He came out 10 weeks early and weighed three pounds, so he had to be admitted into the NICU.
Back in 1986, David went through the same situation when he was born about six weeks early. As a premature baby, he stayed for six weeks in the same NICU as his son.
The excited dad brought his own baby book to the hospital to compare his and his first son’s newborn photos.
“I got the baby book out because I wanted to compare photos of me and Zayne as babies and in the NICU,” David, 33, told Good Morning America.
While David was looking through his old baby photos with his fiancé, Renata Freydin, one picture, in particular, caught her attention.
The photo was that of a newborn David being held by his mother’s favorite NICU nurse, a woman named Lissa McGowan. The picture was taken during his last day at the unit. Renata instantly recognized her as the nurse who had been taking care of Zayne for the past three days!
“We brought the [photo] in and two of the other nurses confirmed that it was [McGowan],” David said. “And my fiancé lost it and was like, ‘I told you it was her.’”
Learning that the same nurse who cared for him as a newborn is now the same one taking care of his premature son was both an emotional and shocking experience.
“It’s 33 years later and this does not happen every day,” he said. “She was the only nurse in my baby book. My baby book came apart and the photo stayed in there.”
David and Renata planned to meet the nurse to tell her about this amazing coincidence. The couple waited until Lissa’s next shift, and on Valentine’s Day, they showed her the decades-old photo and revealed the special connection she shared with Zayne and David.
“I have never had this happen before,” Lissa said. “It’s kind of unusual having your preemie come back after 34 years … but to have a dad come in and be the dad of a preemie is a whole other story.”
Lissa began her nursing career at Saint Peter’s University Hospital in 1981. She was part of the team that admitted Zayne into the NICU after he was born. Lissa remembers speaking to David to assure him that everything will be all right with his son, but it never crossed her mind that she was talking to a former patient.
Saint Peter’s University Hospital has a very large NICU, making this connection even more remarkable. The department handles 1,500 babies annually. It has 56 beds and 120 staff members, meaning that Lissa could have been working the day Zayne was born but not be assigned to him.
“At any given day there are 20 nurses working in the unit,” Lissa explained. “Just to be in the area that he was admitted to and being on that side of the room, everything kind of lined up to put us together.”
David sees this situation as a sign that her mother, who passed away in 2004, is looking out for them. When he was a young boy, David remembers asking his mom about the woman who was holding him in the photo.
“She was like, ‘Oh this woman was so nice. She was so great. She just reassured me every day that you would be fine,’” David recalled. “This happening is like a way of telling me that my mom is looking over me and my baby.”
“I know my mom is watching down on me and her grandson and making sure that we’re in good hands and God is watching over us,” he added. “It’s just a really emotional thing.”
Thankfully, Zayne is now doing well under the care of his nurses. He is gaining weight and showing all the developments of a full-term infant. David describes his son as a “fighter.”