From preemie to premed: former NICU baby all grown up, ready for career in medicine

One recent August morning on the seventh floor of Penn State Children’s Hospital, Tiffany Seibert shared an embrace with Dr. Charles Palmer, 21 years after they first met.

“Things have changed,” said Palmer. “You look amazing!”

“Thanks to you,” replied Tiffany.

Tiffany, a young woman with curly hair and an infectious smile, returned to the Penn State Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) with her parents, Annette and David, for the first time since being discharged more than two decades ago.

Tiffany was born at 25 weeks’ gestation (15 weeks early) and weighed just one pound, 14 ounces.

“She looked like a baby robin that had fallen out of a nest,” David said.

Baby Tiffany was in the NICU for two months and three days. Too little for an incubator, she spent the first few weeks of her life on a warming bed.

“It was heartbreaking seeing Tiffany for the first time,” David recalls. “You think there’s no way she’s going to make it. But Dr. Palmer, Dr. Dennis Mujsce and the entire NICU nursing staff were incredible.”

“If we didn’t have her at the Children’s Hospital, I don’t think we’d have her today,” said Annette, adding that the care her daughter received in the NICU was “amazing.”

Tiffany was born early due to Annette’s severe preeclampsia (previously called toxemia), a serious pregnancy condition where mothers develop high blood pressure and sometimes have life-threatening seizures.

Palmer, who’s been with the Children’s Hospital for more than 30 years, said that some of the major concerns about a baby born at 25 weeks’ gestation would be breathing on her own, tolerating food, immature organs and susceptibility to hemorrhages in the brain.

Annette and David spent nearly every waking hour in the NICU where they became fast friends with nurses, the bedside caregivers. The NICU was their home for two months.

“The NICU itself is just a room,” said David. “It’s what’s inside the room that makes it special. Every time we walked in, we felt fine because there was someone there who really knew what they were doing.”

“The nurses went out of their way for us,” added Annette.

Listening to their stories, Palmer realized the value of their experience.

“It’s powerful to hear the parents talking,” said Palmer. “The doctors don’t always get to see what’s going on. The NICU nursing staff hold the emotional bridge between the baby and the parents. The nurses are the ones who had her all the way throughout her care.”

Read more about Tiffany’s reunion with Dr. Palmer in this Penn State Medicine article.

September 18, 2018 Penn State Health News

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