From Patient Advocate to Parent

Aug 01, 2019

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When I met Gisele, I knew that she needed me as much as I needed her. I knew I was going to help love her, support her and care for her medically, and she was going to give me the chance to be a mom.

Liz Smith

When Gisele was transferred to Franciscan Children’s hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts, she was struggling with complications from premature birth and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) due to exposure to narcotics while in the womb. During five long months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), she never received a single visitor. That all changed when Liz Smith, senior director of nursing, encountered Gisele as she was being wheeled through the hospital halls. Feeling an instant connection to the baby with bright blue eyes, Liz would become Gisele’s medical foster and, with the support of her team members and the hospital, Gisele’s adoptive mother.

Can you describe Gisele’s background and how she came to be at Franciscan Children’s?

Gisele was born premature at just about 30 weeks and weighing less than 2 pounds. She was born with NAS, withdrawing from narcotics. With that combination, she faced a lot of respiratory and feeding challenges and was on vent support for about 90 days. After a few months, she was transferred from the NICU to Franciscan Children’s for further pulmonary rehab and feeding therapy. Unfortunately, Gisele is just one of many kids who face these challenges today. The population is growing because of the opioid crisis.

How did you meet Gisele?

I had just started in my leadership role at the hospital and was getting to know the staff and patients. In my personal life, I was trying to become a mother, but the staff were not aware of my journey. The two worlds collided unexpectedly when other nurses who had started to foster patients asked if I’d met Gisele. They said, “You two would be a perfect pair. Your smiles and personalities match, and she needs a medical foster.” I put it in the back of my mind until Gisele crossed my path two weeks later. We locked eyes, and that was it. I started to visit her every day, uncover her story and learn her background and medical needs.

What made you decide to medically foster and later adopt?

Originally I wasn’t open to fostering or adoption, but conversations with family and friends about the different ways to become a mom planted the idea in my mind. When I met Gisele, I knew that she needed me as much as I needed her. I knew I was going to help love her, support her and care for her medically, and she was going to give me the chance to be a mom. Despite not knowing whether the arrangement would be temporary or permanent, I didn’t hesitate. Only three weeks passed between the moment we met and the day I took her home!

How did being a nurse influence your decision?

I’ve been put in a unique situation at Franciscan Children’s where I get to help care for kids with complex medical needs. That mission crossed over into my personal life when I became a medical foster and mom to Gisele. I knew I could use my critical care nurse skill set to support Gisele in a way that most others could not. That being said, there were times on my journey of motherhood where 22 years of nursing immediately went out the window, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I had to talk to the pediatricians on call and the midlevel providers who cared for Gisele, which was a learning curve. All in all, while being a nurse helped me care for Gisele, there were moments when motherhood took over right away.

You mentioned that your boss and the hospital were very supportive of your adopting Gisele. Can you explain?

In fact, the whole hospital played a big role in me fostering Gisele. They knew it was right for me personally, and they knew it was best for Gisele, so the support flooded in. Starting to foster within a three-week timeframe took a lot of coordination by a lot of people who loved us. Knowing this was going to transform both of our lives, they went above and beyond for us — it’s so typical of Franciscan Children’s and the employees I work with.

My boss, Aimee, in particular has been a huge support through this whole process. First, she saw my leadership strengths and talent at a time when I didn’t have the confidence I typically do in my career. I was trying to have a child on my own and was stressed about missing work. She believed in me and promoted me into this position. Then, when I received a devastating phone call while at work explaining that having a child on my own wasn’t going to happen, Aimee immediately jumped to, “There’s always adoption.” She’s adopted three of her four children, so she never stopped believing.

After I got Gisele, we had to attend a lot of appointments and work through a lot of medical needs. Aimee was understanding and has been flexible with my time. To not only promote me into this position, but then to be flexible and understanding about me becoming a new mom soon after was incredible and a true reflection of the culture at Franciscan Children’s. Aimee is a genuinely compassionate nurse leader. Working with her is special.

How has medically fostering and adopting Gisele affected you?

When Gisele came home, she quickly learned that I was her person, and I was going to keep her safe and love her. She has no idea, but she’s definitely become my person too. Because of her, I’m more confident. I’m stronger. She’s taught me to live life unplanned. You know, the more you plan, the more you can miss something right in front of you. And I would have. I was closed off to fostering and adopting until she crossed my path, and then I couldn’t deny fate. It’s what I was meant to do. As somebody who has always been a planner, breaking out of that mold has been truly life-changing.

How are you and Gisele doing today?

We’re doing great today. Gisele has overcome so many barriers. I’m amazed by her strength and resilience. She still has the feeding tube but it’s a lot less intense. She’s eating. She’ll ask for food like pizza, avocados and peanut butter and toast. She loves butter! It’s fun because she can have anything she wants now. On top of that, Gisele graduated from early intervention before they wanted her to because they couldn’t justify having her on their services. I always love telling others that her social score was 121. They said the high end of average for a social score is 105, so she was off the charts. To go from being in the hospital for eight months to having a way-above-average social score is really cool.