Breaking News Bar
updated: 10/26/2012 8:35 AM

Prospect Heights woman reflects on 40 years as neonatal nurse

hello
Success - Article sent! close
  • Ann Skwarek, left, of Prospect Heights is retiring after working as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital for 40 years. Wishing her well is another 40-year veteran, Cora Reidl of Chicago.

       Ann Skwarek, left, of Prospect Heights is retiring after working as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital for 40 years. Wishing her well is another 40-year veteran, Cora Reidl of Chicago.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Ann Skwarek of Prospect Heights is joined by sons David Skwarek, left, and Bob Skwarek at a retirement lunch at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. Skwarek started working in the neonatal intensive care unit shortly after it first opened at the hospital 40 years ago.

       Ann Skwarek of Prospect Heights is joined by sons David Skwarek, left, and Bob Skwarek at a retirement lunch at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. Skwarek started working in the neonatal intensive care unit shortly after it first opened at the hospital 40 years ago.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Advocate Lutheran General Hospital nurses Lucia Arenas, left, and Ann Skwarek of Prospect Heights, look at photos of Skwarek's 40 years of service at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. Skwarek started working in the neonatal intensive care unit shortly after it opened.

       Advocate Lutheran General Hospital nurses Lucia Arenas, left, and Ann Skwarek of Prospect Heights, look at photos of Skwarek's 40 years of service at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. Skwarek started working in the neonatal intensive care unit shortly after it opened.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Ann Skwarek of Prospect Heights in her earlier years as a nurse. She is retiring after working for 40 years in the neonatal intensive care unit at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.

       Ann Skwarek of Prospect Heights in her earlier years as a nurse. She is retiring after working for 40 years in the neonatal intensive care unit at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

 
 

As she thumbed through an album filled with pictures dating back to the early 1970s, Ann Skwarek shared memories with younger co-workers about her 40 years of working as a nurse in Advocate Lutheran General Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.

Over time, the incubators shrunk, the monitors became more useful and the space for the tiny babies grew bigger -- from seven beds in the original "High Risk Nursery" to 54 beds today.

"It was always challenging because we were at the forefront of neonatal medicine so you felt like you were learning all the time and progressing all the time," the Prospect Heights resident said. "Even to this day, there are changes every day."

Co-workers, old friends and family members stopped by the unit Thursday to celebrate Skwarek's upcoming retirement on Nov. 1. Among the attendees was the unit's clinical manager, Pam Jones-Gibson, who said Skwarek will be truly missed.

"She always stays calm, she's a team player and really focuses on the quality of care," Jones-Gibson said.

Skwarek started working in the unit just a few weeks after it opened its doors in 1972. She was a young mother looking for part-time work and the up-and-coming neonatal field interested her.

"There's a pure innocence about infants and their resiliency is amazing," she said. "They can be so, so sick and then turn around and be perfectly fine. I've seen many miracles, so that kept me going."

Many of those miracle patients and their families stay in touch with Skwarek and her colleagues -- at first through letters, nowadays through emails and pictures. Some, like a man now 30 years old who was extremely sick when he was born, even make emotional visits to see Skwarek and her co-workers.

"He's an ER doctor now," she said of the patient. "It was so unusual at the time that he survived because he was so critically ill. At the time, the resources and the technology were different from how they are today ... and the fact that he did survive and made it was by the grace of God, truly."

Of course, there are babies who don't make it. Skwarek said deaths are incredibly difficult to handle, but just like the technologies in the unit have changed, the support has too. There is now spiritual help, a bereavement counselor, and programs for families who have lost a child,

"We didn't have that in the beginning, not at all," she said. "We had a little bit of a knowledge of it. If a baby was dying we'd hold it; we knew that was the right thing to do. But now there's more. We take footprints; we take a lock of hair; we let the parents wash the baby -- anything they want to do to have their memories of their child."

Despite the ups and downs of the job, Skwarek said she truly enjoys forming deep bonds with families and knowing, through her experiences with them, that her work is meaningful.

"You have to love this profession, being a neonatal nurse, in order to be here as long as I have," she said. "It's just such a rewarding and fulfilling career that I couldn't actually see myself doing anything else. You come in every day knowing you could make a difference in someone's life."

Share

Interested in reusing this article?

Custom reprints are a powerful and strategic way to share your article with customers, employees and prospects.

The YGS Group provides digital and printed reprint services for Daily Herald. Complete the form to the right and a reprint consultant will contact you to discuss how you can reuse this article.

Need more information about reprints? Visit our Reprints Section for more details.

Contact information ( * required )

Name * Company Telephone * E-mail *

Message (optional)

Success - Reprint request sent Click to close
Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.
    help here