Growing up in Elyria, Ohio, Laurie Fortune, staff nurse in Akron Children’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), participated in elite gymnastics, a sport that relies just as much on mental focus, discipline and dedication as athleticism to excel. These skills have been invaluable to Laurie as she cared for northeast Ohio’s littlest and most vulnerable newborns in the NICU.
But it wasn’t until her own husband was in an adult ICU for an extended period that Laurie fully appreciated what it’s like to be on the other side when emotions and stress are running high. She needed everything the nurses provided, especially optimism galore.
“Emotionally, it’s a hard job that we do,” Laurie said. “That’s why we celebrate every time a baby leaves with his or her family. It fills our hearts with joy to see them go home.”
After 35 years of taking care of newborns, Laurie retires on August 26. Besides spending time with her family, Laurie plans to travel, play tennis, kayak, ride her new electric bicycle and continue collecting glass so she can make glass plate garden art.
What brought you to Children’s?
I was studying nursing at Kent State University and had another 1 ½ years left. I applied at Children’s to work as a NICU technician. Eileen Enin hired me.
What was going on in your life then?
I had recently married. Seven months later, my mother had a heart attack. She lived for another week. That’s when I learned that my mom, who served in the U.S. Coast Guard women’s reserve during World War II, had always wanted to be a nurse. It made me proud when I became one. After graduation, my husband got a job in Lima, Ohio. Boy, I cried! I didn’t want to leave Akron Children’s. For 3 ½ years, I worked at a hospital on its pediatric floor until my husband transferred back to Akron. When I called Mrs. Enin, she rehired me on the spot!
Have you always worked in the same department and role?
I’ve always been a staff nurse in the NICU. I love bedside nursing and providing hands-on care to babies. It’s also rewarding to help moms learn to breastfeed, and to answer questions and coach parents.
What have your biggest contributions been while here?
I’ve always advocated for the babies and their families. For instance, when Zoey Tomblin was born prematurely, her parents were visiting from San Diego. There were numerous things Zoey’s family needed during their extended stay, which those of us caring for Zoey were able to provide. Zoey is one of the children featured on the NICU’s Wall of Hope.
Amelia Snellenberger was another NICU newborn for whom I was a primary nurse. When her family created the annual Walk for Babies fundraising event, I got involved. All the money raised goes to fund projects in Children’s NICU, such as NICView cameras in patient rooms.
How has Akron Children’s changed since you started here?
There have been many technological advances in neonatal care, helping to improve the viability of babies born prematurely. Our procedures changed, too. For instance, we used to change from our street clothes into work uniforms and scrub up to our elbows for 3 minutes before coming onto the unit. Other changes include private patient rooms instead of 4-person pods for the babies and the expansion of our NICUs throughout the region.
What gave you the most satisfaction at work?
Every year, it’s seeing the patients I cared for and their families at Walk for Babies.
With so many little children here, did someone or something especially touch your heart?
One of the most heartbreaking experiences I faced as a nurse, but also one of the most meaningful, was the birth of Sofia Dente, who was born full-term but suffered severe brain damage. I cared for her while her parents, Lori Dente, social worker in Children’s pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), and Michael, who previously worked at Children’s, hoped for a miracle. Realizing she couldn’t survive, her parents brought Sofia home where she could pass away peacefully. As her primary nurse, I was able to accompany Sofia, along with palliative care and hospice, to her home and provide end-of-life support.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Enjoying coffee by my pond and feeding the fish that live in it before my grandchildren come over. Later, spending the evening kayaking or bike riding with my husband.
Do you have any advice for people just starting at Children’s?
Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions of your mentors or the experienced nurses.