Twenty-nine-year-old Brittany O’Rourke’s baby photos are all over the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC. They appear in the parent support book and hang on the unit’s “Wall of Fame,” an entryway display with hopeful stories for visitors. One photo shows a tiny O’Rourke clutching her own NICU discharge papers. “That’s my golden ticket!” she says.
Her special recognition comes with being the NICU’s most well-known “graduate”: After spending her first 101 days in Magee’s NICU, O’Rourke now works there as a registered nurse.
She was born prematurely, at 28 weeks, weighing just 2.8 pounds. Because of damage to her airway, she needed a tracheostomy at 15 weeks old and underwent extensive childhood surgeries.
O’Rourke jokes that she was always “a woman on a mission.” Her vocational “training” began at age 3, when nurses would invite her to do small tasks with them at their stations while she was recovering in the hospital.
As a nursing student at Carlow University, O’Rourke began an internship at Magee’s NICU and stuck around. It was easy for her to connect with the place that saved her life as an infant—especially working alongside NICU nurses who’d cared for her as a newborn. She was also drawn to the unit’s family spirit. Today, her favorite parts of nursing are making hats for the newborns she cares for and writing “notes” from them to their parents.
In her seven years working in the NICU, O’Rourke has also come to understand the power her presence holds for new parents.
“I knew my story of being a baby here would have some impact, but I never really knew just how much,” O’Rourke says.
Once, she shared the details of her birth with the father of another infant born at 28 weeks; he told her afterward that he felt he could go home and sleep through the night.
“That made me feel like, Okay, I’m where I need to be,” O’Rourke says.