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Feb. 26, 2018 - Courtney Thomson recognized for launching programs to help parents care for preemies

MOBILE, Ala. -- Courtney Thomson was recently selected for the Beacon of Light Award, recognizing her work at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital and her efforts to bring more awareness about infant care and safety issues to the local community.

Thomson has loved working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) since she first tried it, during her preceptorship as a USA College of Nursing student. After graduating in 1999, she became a staff nurse in the NICU, until taking the NICU’s parent education position in 2013.

“In this role, I do a lot of everything,” says Thomson. “It involves listening to families and teaching them.”

Listening to what families need led her to teach existing classes like infant CPR and to create others: NICU journey, ready for discharge, swaddled bathing and the newest addition, a NICU sibling class.

She is also a nationally certified car seat technician and works tirelessly to make sure children are safely in car seats and car seats safely in cars.

In addition, Thomson coordinates the neonatal abstinence syndrome program, helping newborns and their mothers make the best start despite possible opiate withdrawal. For example, many mothers of opiate exposed newborns believe it’s not safe to breastfeed.  Actually, breastfeeding can be very helpful, says Thomson, so she works with mothers to help them get their children off to the best start possible. Counseling before delivery at the high-risk obstetric clinic has proven to be beneficial for the mother and child.

Keeping children safe

Another passion for Thomson is ensuring infants and children are safe in their car seats. She leads a team of 15 certified technicians at the hospital. They make sure families leave the hospital with a safely installed car seat by request and they will assist anyone who needs help in the community by appointment. Many of their public programs take place at Babies R Us, with Children’s & Women’s handling the car seat checks.  Just a heads up — most of the people who come in for a car seat program do not have the seat correctly installed.

For the past two summers, Thomson also has led a Safe Sitter course, teaching some 200 youth to be better sitters. They learn CPR and choking rescue, but also how to stay safely by themselves and the basics of child development.

Her hospital-based classes for NICU parents and families are her delight.

“NICU parents need support,” she says. “Parents can be scared and so emotionally overcharged.” She likes to make sure classes are relaxed and fun — but whether parents are making Halloween costumes or Ugly Sweater onesies for their tiny newborns, they have the opportunity to meet other families in similar situations.

“We’re working always to be more family centered,” she says.

Other classes include:

  • The NICU Journey, designed especially for new parents of extreme preemies, those born at 28 weeks or earlier. Parents learn what to expect in the NICU, what the various medications and machines are doing for their child, and what resources are available for baby and family.

  • Swaddled bathing, a technique for bathing preemies so they don’t get cold and waste energy crying. Beyond its benefit for the babies, it’s a great help for parents, who build confidence in their ability to handle their tiny babies. “Dads, especially, can be afraid to handle their babies,” she says. “But the more hands on parents are, the more connected they are with the infant.”

  • Siblings class.  Because of the dangers of infections brought into the NICU unwittingly, only people 18 and older may visit — and then only after a good scrub and donning a gown. That means older children don’t connect with their new little brother or sister. So Thomson has developed a class just for siblings. They can visit a special sibling area and talk, via iPad, to their mom or dad and new sibling. With the help of glow lotion and a black light, they learn how to wash their hands properly. “The class helps the older kids learn that their new sibling is real,” she says.

  • Ready for discharge class. At the end of the NICU journey, parents face the daunting task of taking their children home and assuming full responsibility. Ready for discharge helps them learn what’s normal and what needs to be reported to the doctor, plus tips on caring for their newborn. “A premature birth is always something parents didn’t plan for,” she said, so this helps parents feel more confident.

Thomson says she has been aiming for a career in a NICU since she was a child. The mother of her best friend was a NICU nurse at Vanderbilt, and she brought Thomson along to visit her work.

Her decision to be a NICU nurse was as natural as the decision to be a nurse in the first place.

“I’ve always enjoyed helping people,” says Thomson. “It’s just in my nature.”

Thomson and her husband, Ryan, have three children: Morgan, 14, Parker, 12, and Cooper, 10.  They all love sports and enjoy time on their boat.

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