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In 1990, Tammy Evans could scarcely imagine what the next year – let alone the next 28 years – would bring. The only thing that the 18-year-old Evans knew for sure was that she was about to become a mother. Although Evans had experienced a relatively uneventful pregnancy, she unexpectedly went into premature labor and gave birth to a baby boy who was so ill that he required life support. “Many families know that the NICU is coming, but many don’t,” she says. “I was completely caught off guard.”

Although doctors prepared Evans for the worst, her son held on and grew a little bit stronger each day. “My life totally changed,” she recalls. “I promised God and my family that if my boy came home, I would devote my life to care.” And Evans has more than fulfilled that promise. While her son was still just a baby, she enrolled in nursing school, determined to specialize in pediatric care. “I didn’t choose the NICU,” Evans maintains. “The NICU chose me.”

Evans has spent the past three years working in the St. Louis Children’s Hospital NICU, where she brings her unique personal history and incredible empathy to families grappling with the same uncertainty and fear that she once felt as a young mother.

Like Evans, Susan Zeid enjoyed a fairly smooth pregnancy until she began experiencing some unusual symptoms at 24 weeks. Those symptoms, it turns out, were caused by an amniotic sac rupture, which sent Zeid into pre-term labor. Although Zeid’s obstetrician was located at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, she had no hesitations when her doctor advised an immediate transfer to the Women & Infants Center, where the Barnes-Jewish labor and delivery unit offers direct access to the NICU at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Their reputation in town is exceptional,” she adds. “I knew it would be better for our little girl.”

Zeid stayed at the Women & Infants Center for nearly a month before giving birth to daughter Anna in October – at just 27 weeks and six days. She was still under general anesthesia in the labor and delivery unit when Anna was moved to the adjoining NICU. Evans was one of the first nurses that Zeid and her husband Nick met when they were finally able to visit Anna together.

“It’s kind of a big moment when you see your premature baby for the first time,” Susan Zeid acknowledges. “It’s very nerve-wracking. There are wires, monitors and computer screens everywhere. But Tammy understood that overwhelming feeling. She slowed things down for us and told us what each and every tube was doing for Anna. She made everything much more digestible.”

Anna, meanwhile, is flourishing. “They told us that the feistiest babies do the best in the NICU, and she’s a feisty baby!,” jokes Susan Zeid. Although the Zeids won’t be able to take Anna home until early next year, they know that she is being cared for around-the-clock by an expert team of doctors and nurses, including Evans. That knowledge is of great comfort to the couple, who are also parents to a 3-year-old daughter, Caroline.

“People ask us if it’s difficult not being able to bring our Anna home with us,” Nick Zeid shares. “But we are so comfortable with the hospital’s nursing staff and doctors. We know that she has a great team of caretakers at every hour of the day.” Susan Zeid echoes her husband’s sentiments and describes St. Louis Children’s Hospital as a “very warm and loving place.” The nurses and doctors attending to Anna have become like family to the Zeids.

As much as Evans will miss little Anna, her parents and, of course, sister Caroline, she looks forward to watching the whole family go home together. “I get to stand there and hold my heart in my hand,” she says. “When babies like Anna get to go home, that is the happiest day for me.”

To support tiny warriors like baby Anna, make a gift to St. Louis Children’s Hospital at stlouischildrens.org/donate.

St. Louis Children’s Hospital, One Children’s Place, St. Louis, 314-454-6000, stlouischildrens.org

Emma Dent is the Special Projects Manager for the Ladue News. A St. Louis native, Emma is a trained art historian with interests in American visual culture, especially illustration and advertising. She enjoys reading, writing, and looking.