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Lacey Surprenant was just 17 years old when she discovered the worst feeling in the world.

She left the hospital without her baby.

Her son, Quincy, was due August 8, 2008. He arrived May 8. For three months he fought for his life in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. His parents’ lives became an emotional rollercoaster.

“When your child is in the NICU, every day is terrifying,” Lacey said. “No one can tell you when your baby is going to go home.”

Fortunately, Lacey got to take Quincy home just before his official due date. She also left the hospital with something else: a new direction in life.

While Lacey had considered a nursing career before, her experience in the NICU sparked a desire to help a hospital’s tiniest patients. The only bright spot had been the nursing staff and the care they provided Quincy (and his parents).

“They saved my son’s life,” she said. “I knew I wanted to make a difference in whatever career I chose, and this job clearly had a great purpose.”

So she enrolled in Seattle University’s nursing program, putting herself through school by working as a night nurse. She’ll celebrate her fifth anniversary at UWMC’s NICU this October.

Lacey sometimes shares her story with anxious parents. “I let them know there’s a future after the NICU,” she said. “As a parent, it feels like you’ll be here forever. But I forget all the time my son was in the NICU.”

Quincy Surprenant holds a photo of himself in the NICU

She won’t forget the day Quincy went home. Like UWMC, the hospital where he was born works to make the day special. Lacey still has the mementos—photos, a Mother’s Day card—the nursing staff created for Quincy. Now she helps create similar keepsakes at UWMC, where nurses decorate each of the private rooms with photos and artwork like baby footprints.

And she in turn keeps in touch with some of the parents of babies she’s cared for. “It’s so rewarding to watch them grow up into beautiful children,” she said.

Today, Quincy is a happy and healthy 9-year-old boy. He loves reading, math, basketball—and sharing stories of how he was born “smaller than a teddy bear.”

He’s also gearing up to be a big brother. Lacey is once again due in August. Because the odds of having a second premature baby are higher than average, she might become a NICU patient again.

She tries not to stress. And if something does happen, she knows her baby will be in good hands at UWMC.

In the meantime, Quincy often gives his new sister some sage advice (via his mom’s belly):

“Stay in there as long as you can,” he says.

Editor’s note: Since publishing this story, Lacey gave birth to a happy and healthy girl. Layla was 8 pounds, 1 ounce and arrived Aug. 8 – Quincy’s original due date. “It was such a great feeling to be able to take our baby home us this time,” Lacey said.

UWMC’s Lacey Surprenant has plenty of empathy for anxious parents in the NICU. She was one.

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