Every day, nurses look after dozens of premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Many of these teeny-tiny infants go on to lead happy, healthy, normal lives — perhaps totally unaware of how precarious their first few days and months of life were. And though these children couldn’t thank the tireless nurses who cared for them back then, there’s an undeniable bond forged between preemies and the NICU nurses who watch over them.
Vilma Wong has been a nurse at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, California, for 32 years. One day, she was making her rounds when she noticed a man in scrubs standing near an incubator in the NICU. When she asked the young man who he was, she learned he was a second-year pediatric resident named Brandon Seminatore, and he was training to become a child neurologist.
“His last name sounded very familiar,” she told The Mercury News. “I kept asking where he was from and he told me that he was from San Jose, California, and that, as a matter of fact, he was a premature baby born at our hospital. I then got very suspicious because I remember being the primary nurse to a baby with the same last name.’’
Wong asked if Seminatore’s father was a police officer. “There was a big silence,’’ she said, “and then he asked if I was Vilma.’’
After 28 years, Seminatore was stunned that Wong would still remember him. “Meeting Vilma was a surreal experience,’’ he said. “She cares deeply for her patients, to the point that she was able to remember a patient’s name almost three decades later.’’
Back in April 1990, the pair first met under far less happy circumstances. Seminatore was rushed to the NICU following his mom’s emergency C-section. He weighed just two pounds six ounces and was the size of a pineapple. In a old photo from that time, a young Wong cradles a smiling Seminatore, who had just had his breathing tubes removed and was beginning to be able to eat on his own. Today, Seminatore stands 5-feet-8-inches tall and weighs 134 pounds.
When Seminatore’s mother learned her son would be doing a month-long rotation in the NICU, she suggested he try and find out what happened to Wong and her fellow nurse, Kas Pilon, who took such amazing care of Seminatore when he was there. “They were the most wonderful nurses,’’ said Laura Seminatore. “They helped calm a lot of our fears.’’
Last year, Seminatore spent a month in the same unit but didn’t inquire about Wong or Pilon because he assumed they had moved on or retired. But at 54 years old, Wong says she has no plans to retire any time soon. “As a nurse, it’s kind of like your reward,’’ she said of meeting Seminatore for the second time. Now, the pair have plenty of time to bond — this time as coworkers.
As for whether Seminatore’s time in the NICU inspired his career choice, he isn’t sure. But one thing we can know is that Wong has touched Seminatore’s life and the lives of so many other preemies during her many years doing a job she loves.