Back in the NICU, This Time as Caregiver

Paula Darradji, left, cared for Marya Jazouli when she was a NICU patient. “She was tiny, and perfect, and while she had some early trouble, she has made everyone so proud,” Darradji said. “That she’s going to be a nurse is wonderful.”

Though she towers over her mother and sister these days, when third-year University of Virginia nursing student Marya Jazouli was born nearly 21 years ago, she fit snugly in the palm of her mother’s hand – all 2 pounds, 14 ounces of her.

Born at 28 weeks because of a detached placenta, Jazouli’s parents would spend their daughter’s first 66 days in the UVA Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where tiny Marya struggled against apnea, tubes and wires snaking across her thatch of black hair and liquid brown eyes.

“We were so scared and confused,” recalled her mother, Lena, “and in the beginning, when there were so many ups and downs, we were terrified every time the phone rang, worried that it’d be the hospital to tell us she’d stopped breathing.”

It was a terrifying ordeal, made exponentially harder given the Jazoulis’ recent relocation to Charlottesville, far from family members spread between Canada and Lebanon. But within two months, Marya stabilized, went home and settled into life as part of a family, joining her parents and older sister, Dania (who went on to graduate from UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science in 2015).

And though doctors had warned that Marya might experience hearing, vision or development problems as she grew, no health problems ever emerged, and today, two decades later, Marya – now on the eve of her 21st birthday – is in the thick of clinical rotations as a nursing student.

While shadowing UVA nurse Melissa Greenspon through the NICU last week – part of a 15-week obstetrics rotation done by all nursing students – Jazouli talked of coming full-circle, of the nurses who tended her first days and of the new perspective she has of her parents, who endured their daughter’s earliest days with equal parts fear and devotion.

“Being there in the NICU [as a nursing student] made me realize how proud I was of my parents,” Jazouli said, “and proud of myself, too, that I can be able to go back there.”

It’s also given her more clarity on her trajectory, which, until now, was focused generally on pediatrics.

“I knew I wanted to work in pediatrics or obstetrics, but shadowing in the NICU made me realize that my passion is really working with babies,” she said. “I can definitely see myself as a NICU nurse.”

That’s music to the ears of NICU nurse case manager Paula Darradji, who cared for Jazouli that spring 20 years ago and is one of a small handful of nurses still in touch with the Jazouli family.

“Marya’s one of our many success stories,” said Darradji, through tears, “and why this work is so satisfying. She was tiny, and perfect, and while she had some early trouble, she has made everyone so proud. That she’s going to be a nurse is wonderful.”

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Christine Phelan Kueter

School of Nursing