Longtime NICU nurse wins Margaret Martin Award




Lisa DeLong is honored for her dedication to the Riley NICU and to the babies and families she has helped for more than three decades.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Lisa DeLong’s colleagues in the Riley Hospital for Children NICU pulled out all the adjectives to celebrate her this week as she was honored with one of Riley’s top nursing awards.

In a video, team members held up signs describing the longtime Riley nurse.

“Loyal, wonderful, passionate, compassionate, excellent, talented, strong, hard worker, impactful, patient, kind, team player, amazing, caring, dedicated” … to name just a few.

For nearly 38 years, DeLong has worked as a nurse, taking care of fragile babies and their often equally fragile parents.

As winner of the Margaret Martin-Roth Award, honoring a past Riley chief nursing officer who is now 102, DeLong epitomizes the IU Health values of excellence, compassion, team and purpose, her colleagues say.

DeLong, who shies away from attention, attended Tuesday’s awards ceremony in the Riley Outpatient Center auditorium hobbled by an injury, but it hasn’t slowed her down.

She fell off a ladder a month ago, aggravating a knee injury, but didn’t take any time off work, she said.

“I just hobbled around with my stick and figured out how to do my job.”

That’s the dedication she is known for throughout the unit in her current role of discharge specialist.

“I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that kids who maybe would not have survived are able to go home to their families and I’ve been a part of that,” she said Wednesday, a day after she acknowledged feeling “shocked and honored” to receive the nursing award.

Many of these babies go home with trachs, G-tubes, medicines and equipment, which can be intimidating to parents and other caregivers in the family, she acknowledged.

Parents are scared, she said. Some admit it, while others might “act out,” but it’s understandable.

“This is fear, this is not anger,” she said. “They are scared to death. We try to work them through that. You can do this, keep practicing and you’re going to be just fine.”

DeLong started her career out of nursing school in the University Hospital special-care nursery in 1984. In 1991, she moved over to the Riley NICU. She was a staff nurse, then charge nurse for about 20 years before moving to the discharge specialist role a year and a half ago.

“Lisa is an active teacher on our unit, she is continually investigating new, innovative ways to improve the safety of our newborns after discharge to home,” according to her nomination letter. “She frequently evaluates different ways of teaching NICU parents to give them the confidence and resources needed to take their newborn home safely.”

DeLong said there is no way she could do her job without her Riley team’s support. It’s a collaborative process with one overarching goal.

“My job is to give the tools to the bedside nurses and to the team so that we can best support these families going home.”

After Tuesday’s ceremony, DeLong was met with a wonderful surprise arranged by a friend.

A “25-weeker” she had cared for decades ago at Riley was able to reunite with her.

“It was so great,” she said, after seeing the onetime preemie all grown up. “He just graduated from college. To be a 1-pound, 15-ounce, 25-weeker 23 years ago, that’s remarkable.”

Megan Isley, chief nursing officer for Riley, told the nurses gathered in-person and online that they make a difference every day.

“I hope you feel that and you feel valued,” she said. “The past two years have been a whirlwind, and we can’t predict what’s coming next. We’re learning as we go, but the one thing that has been consistent is your compassionate, exemplary care at the bedside. That is what has gotten us through, and it is what will continue to get us through as we ride out the rest of this pandemic.”

To see photos of all the award winners from Tuesday’s program, click here.

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org