Our Nurses Know: Passion

July 20, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

Amber Parker, left, with her daughter Avery and son Gage.

As a compassionate 9-year-old who loved to babysit children in her neighborhood, Amber Parker knew she wanted to spend her life helping people.

“My dream was to become a nurse,” Amber said. “I wanted to be there for people when they’re at their most vulnerable.”

But with a growing family and a husband in the military serving overseas, Amber had once given up that dream and accepted that getting a nursing degree wasn’t going to happen.

“Life had sort of gotten in the way, and that was ok,” she said. “I would have been perfectly happy raising my family with my husband.”

But her plans changed when her daughter’s health care challenges reignited Amber’s quest to help others. And it led her down a path to Michigan Medicine, where she now works as a nurse on 6B at University Hospital.

An unconventional journey

In 2011, Amber found out that her fourth child — due several months later — was going to be born with spina bifida, a common birth defect caused by the spinal cord not developing properly in the womb. Many spina bifida patients deal with varying levels of paralysis and excess fluid in the brain that must be drained by a shunt.

“We knew we were going to have a lot of work ahead of us,” Amber said about caring for her daughter Avery.

At the time, Amber had been mulling whether or not to return to nursing school to get her degree.

“The timing wasn’t going to work with the challenges Avery was going to face,” Amber said. “I wanted to make sure I was there for her and for everyone in my family.”

After she was born, Avery spent a month and a half in the neonatal intensive care unit at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. At five months old, Avery got a respiratory infection and required even more specialized care from Michigan Medicine experts.

“Avery had so much pressure on her brain stem that her brain wasn’t telling her body to breathe while she was asleep,” Amber said.

Doctors fitted Avery with a trach, which improved her breathing and oxygen levels but added complications to the care Amber and her husband were already providing for Avery.

“Training for the trach was intense, learning how to clear it out and keep it working as it needed to,” Amber said. “I truly became my daughter’s nurse. That gave me another glimpse into the world of nursing and actually kept me going.”

Serving as a resource

As Avery got older and her health improved, Amber decided the time was right to return to her dream and pursue a nursing degree.

“I had just spent the last two years in and out of Mott with my daughter,” Amber said. “I saw the incredible care everyone provided and became active in the patient and family-centered care (PFCC) programs.”

She served on a number of advisory committees with doctors, nurses and administrators. She also met regularly with parents of children who are born with spina bifida or have been fitted for a trach. Those efforts continue to this day.

“Michigan Medicine allowed me to become a resource for others. Parents can ask questions and share concerns with somebody who has gone through everything before,” Amber said. “After my experience with PFCC, I knew that one day I wanted to join Michigan Medicine as a nurse.”

‘A gift to all of us’

Amber entered a nursing program in Toledo four years ago, graduating in 2016, and joined the organization in June of that year. She said her experience caring for Avery and working with patients and families through PFCC has made her a better nurse.

“I understand my patients and families so much better than I would have before Avery was born,” Amber said. “I can empathize with their frustrations and better share in their successes.”

There’s one other habit that Avery has helped Amber adopt.

“Avery always has a smile on her face, no matter the situation. That’s the attitude I bring to work every day.

“She’s been such a gift to all of us.”