Having a newborn in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be a stressful and uncertain time for new parents. Often, the nervous parents lean on the dependable and compassionate care of the NICU nurses to see them through this difficult time. These hard-working nurses make a difference in families’ lives and often don’t get a chance to connect with them much after their time in the hospital.
But one NICU nurse from New Jersey recently discovered a cross-generational connection to the family of one of the tiny babies in her care.
Lissa McGowen, who has worked at Saint Peter’s University Hospital since 1981, has tended to thousands of babies over her career. She’s seen them through their delicate conditions, helped them get stronger, and then celebrated with their families when they were finally able to go home.
Recently, Zayne Alexander Caldwell, a little boy born 10 weeks before his due date, was admitted to the NICU. Zayne’s father, David Caldwell, was understandably unsettled about the condition of his little boy. McGowen spent some time with the new father to calm his nerves. Little did they know that she had done the same thing for David’s mother decades before.
Almost 34 years ago, David was born in the same hospital and had to be admitted to the NICU. His mother experienced the same nerves and needed help caring for her fragile newborn. Mom was so impressed with the care she and her son received from one of the nurses that she took a picture of the nurse holding her baby. The picture got tucked away in David’s baby book.
After Zayne was born prematurely and admitted to the NICU, his dad decided to go home and dig out his baby book to compare pictures of himself as a preemie with his new son. As David and Zayne’s mom, Renata Freydin, came across the old picture, Freydin couldn’t believe her eyes.
“I knew that lady!!” she shared on Facebook in a post that has since gone viral. “Well, the reason I know her is because I swore she was the nurse that had been taking care of our baby boy for the past three days!”
Caldwell didn’t believe his fiancée at first, but when the couple brought the picture back to the hospital, other nurses confirmed it was McGowan. On Valentine’s Day, the happy parents shared the photo with the nurse who had held David in her arms all those years ago.
“I have never had this happen before,” McGowan told “Good Morning America.” “It’s kind of unusual having your preemie come back after 34 years … but to have a dad come in and be the dad of a preemie is a whole other story.”
Caldwell remembers talking to his mom when he was little about the smiling nurse in the photo.
“She was like, ‘Oh this woman was so nice. She was so great. She just reassured me every day that you would be fine,'” he told “GMA.” “This happening is like a way of telling me that my mom is looking over me and my baby.”
The new parents made sure to complete the circle by getting a picture of Zayne with McGowan and the proud papa (who held the original photo.)
David said he believes seeing McGowan is not a coincidence after all these years. In fact, he believes it’s a sign from his mom, who died in 2004. And Freydin posted similar thoughts to Facebook.
“The past 2 weeks have been filled with worries and uncertainty,” she wrote, “but we can breathe easy knowing my lil nugget’s nurse is the same one that helped the man I love when he was in the same situation.”