Tracy Hullet, NICU Nurse
John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital
Nominated by Kelley French
We have a video of our daughter in one of her first days alive. In it, Tracy Hullett’s hands are delicately unwrapping tape from a skinny, fragile ankle. Our baby was born at 23 weeks gestation – at the border of viability — weighing 1 pound, 4 ounces. In the video, her skin is still nearly translucent, and she still looks more like a plucked chicken than an infant. Tracy is steady and meticulous. She has the same calm approach that we would come to count on every time she started an IV or a PICC in our girl’s tiny and squiggly veins, every time she removed a dressing and tried to leave the skin in place.
It wasn’t dramatic acts of heroism that gave us such faith. It was the everyday things. How she cut down the smallest diapers so they would fit better. How she could arrange the blankets just so and put our daughter snugly to sleep. Tracy made the smallest bow you can imagine out of gauze and stuck it to our daughter’s head. From the start, Tracy saw her not as a patient or a possibility, but a little girl.
Our baby had four abdominal drains, intestinal surgery, chest tubes, blot clots, ROP. She swelled until she couldn’t move or open her eyes. We came in one day and Tracy had put her in a dress — a black and white number with a pink tutu, maybe six inches, skirt to collar. “Where’d you get that dress?” I asked Tracy. “PetSmart,” she said. It was a dress made for a Chihuahua, but it was one in a series of Tracy’s small gestures that made the tiny, scary, foreign creature in the incubator recognizable as our daughter. Tracy set our emotional compass. She prepared us for the possibility that our daughter would die or develop life-long disabilities. On the day we most feared our daughter would die, Tracy walked with us to surgery and told us to give our baby a kiss on her forehead.
We had never kissed her before. It was a gift that sustained us through the terrible hours that followed. On Mother’s Day, Tracy made a “Mom” tattoo out of tape and put it on our baby’s shoulder. You have no idea how that feels when your status as a mom is so much in suspense. When our daughter was two months old, Tracy dressed her in a Harry Potter robe — a robe Tracy had made herself, complete with blue sneakers and tiny broomstick. Using tape, Tracy had even made a lightning bolt scar and placed it on Juniper’s forehead. In the books, the scar marks a baby who has escaped death through an act of love. People say our baby is a miracle. We think that’s true. But part of the miracle was Tracy Hullett. The miracle is that Tracy didn’t just treat her.
She loved her. And she made us feel safe enough that we could love her too. On Oct. 25, on Juniper’s 196th day in the unit, Tracy came in on her day off and walked us — the three of us — out into the sun. We joked that the baby wouldn’t know which of us was her mother until we got to the car. Juniper, now 5, just started kindergarten. She has no serious delays or disease. She is fierce and wild and in love with the world. “Watch,” she likes to tell us. “You might be mad, but this might be amazing.” Even though we live in another state now, we see Tracy several times a year. We tell Junebug to grow strong and behave herself, because Tracy is still watching.