By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shakiyla Rogers didn’t dare dream about this day when her tiny son was fighting for his life in the NICU at IU Health North Hospital five years ago.
But sure enough, Caiden Rogers took a giant step forward this month when he walked into kindergarten for the first time.
Caiden, born at just 24 weeks’ gestation and weighing 1 pound, 15 ounces, spent six months in the hospital, first in the NICU at North and then in the PICU at Riley Hospital for Children in Downtown Indianapolis.
When he was discharged from the hospital, he went home with a feeding tube, as well as a trach tube and ventilator to help him breathe.
Rogers found strength during that time in the care that surrounded her, and it inspired her to want to give back.
She began working as a unit tech/secretary in the PICU, then resurrected her dream of going to nursing school.
“I always wanted to be a nurse, but I put it on the back burner,” she said in a previous interview. “I thought I didn’t have enough time for school. But after I had my son and we went home, I realized I really loved pediatric nursing, and I was pretty much a nurse at home already with all of his equipment.”
Fast forward to today, and Rogers is working as a registered nurse on the same unit at Riley where her son was a patient.
“It’s easier for me being on the other side of things now,” she said. “I’ve been that parent who has sat in the hospital by their child. I’m still that parent sometimes.”
That’s because Caiden continues to be treated for asthma periodically, and when that happens, she becomes mom again, leaving the nursing to her colleagues.
As a nurse and a mom who has been through the long and difficult days of life in the PICU, she believes she can provide added support to other parents who worry that they can’t step up to the challenges required of families who have kids dealing with serious healthcare issues.
“I think they really appreciate it. It’s hard for others to believe you when you’re saying everything’s going to be OK. But when it’s coming from a parent who’s been through it, I think it makes them more comfortable,” Rogers said.
Courtney Espinosa, family support coordinator for the Riley NICU Nest program, said Rogers’ lived experience as the mom of a trach/vent kiddo is invaluable in her work as a nurse.
“All of us on the NICU Nest family support team have kiddos with special healthcare needs,” said Espinosa, whose son also relied on a trach, a vent and a feeding tube after he was born.
“It’s easy for doctors to tell you what to expect, but it’s drastically different to hear it from another parent who actually makes you feel like, ‘OK, I can probably do this.’ ”
That’s what Espinosa was able to do for Rogers, and Rogers does the same for families whose patients are in her care.
“At the time, she was just a mom getting started in all this,” Espinosa said, “and I was on the other side of it and working at Riley.”
Now, Rogers is on the other side of it as well. Caiden has been off the trach and vent for four years.
“I think all of us who have had kids with trachs and vents, it’s just a unique experience, and I think we all kind of feel like we want to help people … in that world,” Espinosa said. “I love seeing her doing that out in the world, too.”
To look at him today, Rogers says you wouldn’t know Caiden, 5, had such a rough start in life.
For one thing, he’s a champion speller. To demonstrate his skills, she asks him to spell a word. He suggests cow. She says that’s too easy.
“Spell elephant,” she said.
He doesn’t hesitate: “E-l-e-p-h-a-n-t!” Then he dissolves into giggles.
Fulfilling her dream of becoming a nurse while seeing her child thrive gives Rogers immense satisfaction.
Not that it’s been easy.
“I always felt like my place in life was to be able to care for others, so I’m glad to be able to give back to Riley by working there,” she said.
“It’s a tough time with the pandemic and all, and it’s been hard for new nursing grads, but I’ve learned a lot, and now I’m teaching other nurses.”
Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com