Honored for dramatic results generated from patient and staff education
Not long after Shakira Henderson arrived on South Miami Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, the nurse specialist realized that few mothers of the tiny babies breastfed their ill newborns. With only three years of experience in bedside nursing and one year of NICU nursing under her belt, Henderson lobbied her unit and the hospital to make breastfeeding a priority among its smallest and medically fragile patients.
Mother’s milk is critical brain food for babies, guards infants and their mothers against illness and disease, and babies who are breastfed are less likely to become overweight and obese, according to studies touted by federal and international agencies. However, breastfeeding can be a frightening prospect for parents whose tiny infants are confined to incubators and who seem barely able to cling to life.
“It is not an easy path to become a nurse but it is a journey well worth the ride. As a nurse, you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on a life every day-not many professions can say that! As a nurse, you get to care for a living.”
For her leading role in creating and initiating a breastfeeding initiative that has produced dramatic results in South Miami Hospital’s NICU, Henderson is one of just seven recipients nationwide to receive the 2011 Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award.
“Armed with science and data, Shakira pursued her vision to make a difference to babies and their mothers, and she left nothing to chance,” explains Wendell Mobley, who directs Cherokee Uniforms’ charitable and scholarship programs. “To our judges, Shakira’s dedication to her patients and the broader neonatal care community distinguishes her as an extraordinary nurse who deserves to be recognized.”
Henderson ensured that a team of staff members and herself were trained to become nurse-counselors to help mothers breastfeed and be able to pump their own milk to feed their premature babies. When a baby is too small or ill to suckle, pumped mother’s milk can be delivered by tube to the baby’s stomach. The NICU lactation team now provides more than 50 patient-consults each month, and 70% to 90% of mothers with babies on the unit now pump milk.
“Shakira’s enthusiasm for the nursing profession is illustrated by her time commitment to this positive cause,” says Maureen Pahl, a NICU lactation consultant and Henderson’s nominator. “The success of the breastfeeding initiative is a testament of her hard work, and I am confident that she will continue to discover new practices that also will have an overwhelming impact on our patients, staff and unit reputation.” Henderson’s zeal for education and patient care has led her to pursue doctoral studies with a focus on neonatal care.
Henderson’s passion to promote breastfeeding on her unit was recognized hospital-wide as the 2009-2010 Patient Educator of the Year. At the national level, she received the 2010 National Leadership Award from the Association of Neonatal Nurses and was selected as an Emerging Leader for the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses.
The Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award is granted by Cherokee Uniforms as a way of recognizing the caring and highly competent work of nurses and other non-physician healthcare professionals who provide exceptional service, sacrifice and innovation while positively impacting others’ lives. This is the ninth year the nation’s leading designer and manufacturer of healthcare apparel has honored inspirational caregivers across the country.
As a National Winner, Henderson will receive an all-expense-paid trip to a 2012 U.S. medical conference of her choice courtesy of Cherokee Uniforms; a wardrobe featuring the best of Cherokee Uniforms and Footwear worth more than $1,000; a Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award trophy; a 14K gold-plated commemorative pin; a year’s subscription to Scrubs, the nation’s first lifestyle magazine for nurses; and a $500 donation in her name to the DAISY (Diseases Attacking the Immune System) Foundation.
But it is finding new ways to engage and challenge NICU nurses that gives Henderson her true reward. “Nurses are at times the eyes, ears and mouths of their patients. We are crucial in making sure they are receiving the best care possible,” says Henderson. “In the NICU patient population, we have the most precious thing in our hands: a life. In caring for these infants, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves about improved practices and advancements that will make a difference in the lives of the patients and families we serve.”
Since the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award was established in 2003, almost 9,900 healthcare professionals have been nominated across the various nursing and non-physician disciplines. A panel of Cherokee representatives and past Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award recipients evaluates nominations and grants the awards.