NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — It’s been a whirlwind of interviews for Lissa McGowan. CNN called. Then the Washington Post. Then “Good Morning America.” On and on.
The eyes of the world have turned their loving gaze toward the Saint Peter’s University Hospital nurse since major media outlets began covering her incredible story earlier this week.
Nurse Lissa had been caring for Baby Zayne Caldwell in the neonatal intensive care unit at Saint Peter’s since he came into the world 10 weeks early last month.
During their long days at Saint Peter’s as they watched Zayne grow stronger, David Caldwell and Renata Freydin made a startling discovery: Caldwell was also cared for by McGowan when he was born early 33 years ago. They even produced an old photo of McGowan cradling young David to prove it.
So, as the story was shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media, one “like” showed McGowan just how many hearts her story had touched.
“My daughter told me I was liked by one of her favorite celebrities, Kristen Bell, on Instagram,” McGowan said. “She said, ‘Now you’re a true celeb, mom. You’ve got the celebs liking you.’”
The buzz will die down soon enough, McGowan tells herself. But, her love for caring for the smallest and weakest babies will never wane.
McGowan grew up in Watchung and was going to the University of Vermont when she decided she wanted to be a nurse. She tried the medical-surgical floor and the postpartum unit, but returned to the NICU both times.
She’s been there for 38 years and she said the 120 nurses in the NICU at the Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital are like family. And, it shows in the care they provide.
The hospital is the No. 1-ranked NICU in the state by U.S. News. It is part of New Jersey’s first state-designated Regional Perinatal Center. The NICU is licensed for 54 bassinets and provides the most comprehensive neonatal care in the state for newborns and infants with medical or surgical problems.
“I always say to parents, ‘I’m sorry you’re here, but I’m glad I’m here for you,’ “ McGowan said. “Nobody wants their kid in the NICU. But, at least we’re here for them and I always felt it’s important for me to be there for them to go a little bit out of my way to make sure the chair was comfortable, to just check that they were OK. You know, mom and dad and the grandparents, too. Everyone is going through a stressful time.”
McGowan, 61, said she spent her past two days off doing nothing but phone interviews with reporters. One of the days, she turned to her husband and said, ‘It’s 1:30 in the afternoon and I still haven’t had my coffee.’”
She’s spent the few moments she’s managed to steal for herself wondering if there’s something more to this great coincidence. Is this fate at work? After all, any of the 120 nurses could have been assigned to care for Baby Zayne. He could have been cared for and dismissed and this cosmic connection would have never happened.
“[David] said to me that it brought him a lot of comfort when he realized that we were the same person because his mom passed away in 2004,” McGowan said. “It kind of brought it back full circle, that it was his mom telling him everything is going to be OK.
“He said he did grow up knowing about Nurse Lissa that took care of him when he was in the NICU. To me that’s really the story. I brought him comfort at a time he was very concerned, very worried about having a premature baby. Ten weeks early is early. It brought him comfort that I took care of him and he’s OK.”