An unexpected journey to saving babies' lives in the Wabash Valley

News 10 takes a look back at what saving a babies' lives looked like in 1968, at Indiana's first ever NICU right here in Terre Haute.

Posted: Aug 9, 2018 8:43 AM
Updated: Aug 9, 2018 8:59 AM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - We often talk about how far health care has come in such a short time. Even 10 to 20 years ago, medical practices looked different.

It was the passion of two local doctors that put Union Hospital in Terre Haute on the map.

That’s where you'll find life's biggest blessings in the newborn intensive care unit. They just so happen to come in small packages.

"I came to the NICU kind of by accident," said Colleen McConnell, R.N.

McConnell never planned to call herself a NICU nurse. She was transferred to the unit three years into her nursing career and fell in love.

"You only had two nurses who worked the whole NICU," said McConnell.

Operations looked a little different in the 1970s.

"One nurse would take one side of the hall and the other nurse would take the other side and that's how we divided up the patient load," said McConnell.

She's talking about the first NICU established in Indiana. It started at Union Hospital in Terre Haute thanks to Dr. Thomas Conway, M.D. and Dr. William Scully, M.D.

"Our leadership team in the history of our existence is not scared to try something new, especially when it’s evidence-based," said Jaimee Goodman, Director of Women’s and Children’s Services.

Since 1968, the unit has seen many upgrades. So has their care.

McConnell remembers introducing surfactant, a new medicine, in 1990 that helped babies breathe easier.

"That made a big improvement in the outcomes of those babies," said McConnell.

Results that saved lives.

"It just makes you feel good all over because you were part of that. So you helped them and that's what nursing is all about,” said McConnell.

When this summer rolled around, McConnell decided it was time to hang up the badge after 43 years.

"It was hard to leave too," said McConnell.

This Terre Haute nurse saw health care transform and families blossom.

And if you ask her if she could go back in time, she’d say, “If I did it all over, I’d do the same thing.”

The hospital is celebrating 50 years of NICU miracles. You're invited to join the big celebration on October 20 from 1 – 3 p.m. in Union Hospital East Lower Level Atrium.

You can preorder a shirt to wear to the event and proceeds will benefit the Union Health Foundation NICU fund. Order through this link

The celebration will include honoring Dr. Conway and Dr. Scully, visiting with NICU caregivers and families, and information on what’s next for NICU care at Union Hospital.

If you are a Union Hospital NICU graduate or have a child who is a NICU graduate, please email a photo to Jennifer Harrah with the year of birth.

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