Full Circle

It’s hugs all around when Emily Paulson stops by the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sanford Children’s Hospital in Fargo.

“Emily!” say several veteran NICU nurses, taking time out of their busy morning to rush up and greet her. They remember when she was a patient here 22 years ago, but there’s a more recent memory, too. In August, college senior Emily completed the Nursing Co-op Program, a nursing internship, on this very unit.

“I wouldn’t even be here without this NICU team,” says Emily. “These nurses are still the most amazing people I’ve ever met.”

Born July 9, 1991

Emily spent her first 23 days in the NICU. Born a few weeks early, she was diagnosed with Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare genetic birth disorder characterized by premature joining of certain bones in the skull during development. Symptoms vary widely, but can include facial abnormalities as well as difficulty breathing, eating, hearing and more.

“I’ve had about 20 surgeries in my lifetime, beginning when I was a week old,” says Emily matter-of-factly. Her first surgeries involved tubes temporarily inserted in her airway and stomach to help her breathe and eat.

Joan Douville, registered nurse in the NICU and a flight nurse, met Emily shortly after her arrival in the NICU. She was struck by the strong support of Emily’s parents, Denise and Dan, from Moorhead, Minn.

“From day one, this family has forged ahead, dealing with whatever challenges came Emily’s way,” says Joan. “They instilled in her this attitude of ‘Man oh man, you can do anything you want to do.’ I think that’s where her confidence started.”

From little on up, Emily has put her heart and soul into ice skating, music, schoolwork, dancing, theater and more. “And friends,” adds Emily. “I love spending time with my friends and my family. They’re the most important people in my life.”

She’s also active in the Children’s Craniofacial Association, helping others from across the country who deal with issues like hers.

The call to nursing

In middle school, Emily realized she wanted to be a nurse. By then she’d experienced many surgeries and hospital stays.

“I’d watch how the nurses took care of me. Some would just come in, do their assessment and leave, but others took the time to play with me when I was young or just listen to me as I got older. That meant a lot,” she says. “I could see that nurses were very special people. I wanted to do what they were doing.”

At age 17, Emily took steps toward making her dream come true. She began a five-year, once-a-week stint as a NICU volunteer. She’d work with the laundry, rock the babies and help out in any way she could.

Joan remembers what she was like: “Even then, she had the ability to see what needed to be done, and she was never afraid to ask, ‘How can I help you?’ She was excellent with the babies, too, holding them, talking to them and singing to them.”

In 2010, after graduating with top honors from Moorhead Senior High, Emily pursued her nursing degree at Concordia College in Moorhead. It’s no surprise she has put 100 percent into her education, including serving as president of Concordia’s Student Nurses Association this upcoming year.

Side-by-side with NICU nurses

In her recent three-month nursing co-op program at Sanford’s NICU, Emily has impressed many. “She’s just a sponge,” says Joan. “She wants to see and learn all she can.”

Emily recalls several highlights:

  • The chance to go on a Sanford AirMed flight to Bemidji, Minn. “I never imagined I’d be able to do that as an intern,” she says.
  • The strong bonds of the NICU team. “The NICU is exactly like a family,” she says. “The doctors and nurses work very closely together and really help each other out.”
  • The dedication to babies and families. “NICU nurses really have a passion for what they do. You can tell the minute they walk in the door that this is what they love,” says Emily. “Now I know how truly wonderful they are. I thank them for everything they do in the NICU -- not only for me back when I was a baby, but for all the other babies and families.”
  • Next May, Emily will graduate from Concordia, taking her top-notch nursing skills, positive attitude and caring spirit out into the world -- and maybe even back home to Sanford.

    “I have a big heart for so many people in my life, especially the NICU babies,” she says.

    Become a nurse!

    Do you dream of becoming a nurse? Take a page from Emily’s resume. Bring your passion to Sanford, where hundreds of students every year get the chance to work with our experienced, compassionate professionals. Visit our Website to learn more about becoming a nurse, educational opportunities for nursing students, or career opportunities in nursing!

    Posted Date: September 2013

    Full Circle

    Emily Paulson has a special place in her heart for Sanford Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Born with a rare genetic disorder, she spent her first weeks in the NICU. Today -- 22 years later -- she’s back as a nurse intern.