Shirley Fisher, RN

Surgical Coordinator, Cardiac Surgery
Start Date: 1963

FIRST HELICOPTER FLIGHT A FRIGHT!

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the use of helicopters to transport trauma patients was just emerging, I was the head nurse in the Hospital Center's Emergency Department.

I remember one Saturday I was off, but I had come in to the hospital to get some extra work done when I received a call from my supervisor to report to the helipad for a helicopter demonstration. I remember saying, "Where is the helipad?" Turns out that the helipad and demonstration site were located in a big field where Children's National Medical Center now sits.

My supervisor wanted us to tour the helicopters and provide feedback about the features inside. When I got there, the pilot asked, "Are you ready to go?" I responded, "Go where?" and he said, "Go up." I told him I get dizzy just standing on a kitchen stepstool. Well, I didn't have a choice, so off we went. I was scared to death, but it was interesting flying over the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and other landmarks.

Ultimately, I wasn't a fan of flying, and it wasn't long before I decided to transfer to the Neonatal ICU after being invited to join the unit by Dr. (Milton) Werthmann, (founder and chair of Neonatology).

THE BIRTH - AND GROWTH - OF THE NICU

After working in the Emergency Department for eight years, I decided to join the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in 1971 when critical care for infants was a new and rapidly developing field of medicine. At the time, we were barely able to save 34-week-old premature infants and they had a minimal chance of survival. Now we are saving preemies as young as 24 weeks. The technology used today wasn't even dreamed of in the early 1970s.

In those days, we didn't have total parental nutrition by mouth or IV for infants, and rickets (a diet deficiency that causes bone defects) was common. But in the last 15 years, we have seen only one case of this disease, thanks to nutritional advancements.

The babies we are saving in the NICU today get a much better start now than they did 30 years ago. Intensive care actually starts in the delivery room with a special team. There's an ICU nurse in attendance at every complicated delivery, including pre-term deliveries and C-sections. We know that when families take their babies home today, they have a strong chance for a healthy happy life.