Nurse takes care of preemies for 41 years

November 12, 2008 7:18:40 PM PST
The care for preterm babies is far more advanced these days, according to Stanford's Lucille Packard Hospital. A nurse who's been taking care of premature babies for 41 years, was a preemie herself. Since she was born, many changes have taken place which resulted in many saved lives.

Joan Cordes has been taking care of preemies for more than 40 years, but when she was born, 63 years ago, Joan was not expected to live. She was 10 weeks early.

"Well the doctor just threw up his hands, according to my father, and said, 'Well, either she is going to live or she is going to die,'" said Cordes.

She survived because her lungs were mature. Back then there were no respirators. She was kept in an incubator for two and a half months, away from the touch and warmth of her mother.

"And of course now we really encourage parents to come in to spend as much time as they can with them to help bond with the baby and baby bond with them," said Cordes.

Today preemies as early as 23 weeks survive. That's because today's technology has changed the way they are monitored and cared for.

In the early 60's, Stanford was one of only three hospitals in the nation to put preemies on ventilators. Dr. Philip Sunshine was a young physician at Stanford.

"And we always said, if the Kennedy baby Patrick Bouvier Kennedy were born at Stanford, he'd still be alive and probably running for President," said Dr. Sunshine.

The Kennedy baby was a preemie who died two days after being born.

While at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Joan has made it her mission to save babies who arrive too early. She has even cared for preemies born to ex-patients. Parents value her experience.

"It's really stressful and scary thing, everyday things would come up and I had a lot of question to ask the nurses and Joan gave me a lot of information," said Denise McGowen, a mother of twin preemies.

"Always looking after the baby, always looking out for the family. It was just a pleasure working with her all these years. I think the whole time I worked with her we only had one fight and it turns out she was right," said Dr. Sunshine.

Joan has no immediate plans to retire and says it's these tiny babies that keeps her going.


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