How 2 Nurse Practitioners Decided To Help Babies Touched By Opioid Crisis

31 Oct 2017

Kyle Cook, 53, and Carla Saunders, 51, are neonatal nurse practitioners at a children’s hospital in Knoxville, Tenn.

You spent decades caring for infants. You are so devoted to your work.

Cook: Of course, we like our job. But you see, in the summer of 2010, our jobs began to change.

Saunders: We had six babies in the nursery who were in withdrawal.

The babies were inconsolable. They had tremors.

Were you prepared to work with such patients?

 Cook:No.Completely unprepared.We couldn’t fix it; we couldn’t make these babies better. Little did we know that was the tip of the iceberg. We had 10, and then 15, and then, at one point, 37 babies in the NICU that were withdrawing. We were bursting at the seams.

Saunders: True. We were absolutely unprepared and short-staffed.I remember a nurse in tears holding a screaming baby. We’ve got to do something, I thought, because what we were doing wasn’t working.

The children’s hospital in east Tennessee is emblematic of the substance abuse problem happening all over the U.S.

Saunders: Yes.But there weren’t efficient specialists at that time we’re speaking of.  And so we went looking to the experts, you know, let’s call across the country, and let’s find out what’s the best way to treat these babies.

Were you a success?

Cook: Alas, we discovered that nobody knew. And who knew that we would become the experts?

How did it happen?

Sounders: We did everything we could to help establish one of the first treatment protocols for babies who exposed to opioids and a program connecting mothers with treatment and therapy.

Cook:When you see a baby, especially one that has been in your care for a long time, that has been off the charts in withdrawal, and you’ve done everything you possibly can and you finally get this baby acting like a normal baby, and then he smiles at you, and to know that you’ve made a difference in a mother’s life — I mean, that will carry you through the darkest times, knowing that, my gosh, we did this.

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