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Partners in Care Emerge from Unexpected Beginnings

The Neonatal Therapy Certification Board (NTCB) welcomes Jordan Nicole Starr and Katie Reginato Cascamo as public members. Jordan and Katie are former parents of NICU infants and consumers of neonatal therapy services and will ensure the public voice is heard. This will help the NTCB achieve the highest standards of excellence.

From the unexpected beginnings that both NTCB public members experienced emerges an incredible opportunity for the NTCB to partner in care to benefit high risk infants and their families. This will also create a better-informed neonatal therapy community. Hear some insights of these parents related to their stay.

“In every person’s life, they encounter events or people that help shape who they are.  Some of these experiences even make them feel as though they are two different people, the person before the event and the person after it. This is especially true for people who have experienced some type of trauma. For me, that life-shaping experience was my NICU journey and the birth of my two beautiful babies at 28 weeks.  From the first day I stepped into the NICU, I knew I had become a different person when Sophia and Carson defined that they would not be full-term babies. I literally felt an immediate change and I was bombarded with an array of emotions. I felt fear, happiness, sadness, and most of all anxiety about all of the unknowns. My experience forced me to put away the ‘perfect pregnancy and birth’ dream and embrace a new reality. It provided me with a new understanding of life,” recounts Jordan as she describes her experience in the NICU.

“The NICU staff was the center of our world. They were our ground,” articulates Katie.  Having to be airlifted during a blizzard from a rural hospital in Oregon to a regional center of excellence to deliver her son, Giovanni, at 30 weeks, Katie recalls the moment that she understood her calling. “As I was emergently being taken to another hospital, I felt like the healthcare professionals were doing this beautifully orchestrated dance, like the Nutcracker, with everyone simultaneously knowing their role.” It was in that moment that Katie describes, “…my calling came to exist. It was the peace of being fully present, a moment of clarity. I knew I was no longer the boss.” In the NICU, Katie recollects a shift, “The importance of me being the primary caregiver was infused. My son and our family were cared for by highly emotionally intelligent servant leaders that equipped me to overcome my fears and take a lead role in caring for my son.”  

While Jordan’s and Katie’s stories are unique, they share a common theme of carrying forward the wisdom gained from their experiences. They both echoed the same sentiment, “Everything I learned in the NICU, I use every day.”   

“I’ve come to realize everyone’s future is somewhat unknown, but it is even more so with NICU babies. Having this experience is the reason I started a support group with parents of graduates so we can share our story and give parents answers to their never-ending questions of ‘life after the NICU’.” In addition to being the Autism Services Program Manager for Easter Seals Midwest Autism Services, Jordan has made it her mission to support NICU caregivers and has grown her support group to include two lead mentors, three graduate mentors and 65 members who include nurses, therapists, graduates, and inpatient families.

“Without my NICU story, I have no career. All the work I do is directly related to what I learned in the NICU.  I learned more than just caring for a baby. I was taught mindfulness, to listen, to have courage and confidence to overcome barriers, to have self-empathy and allow for self-healing.” Katie subsequently pursued a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership and is currently pursuing her PhD in Leadership Studies, in addition to starting her own leadership development and consulting business, Courageous Steps. “As a leadership practitioner in the helping profession space, I now teach presence, connection, and rediscovering self-leadership with a focus on helping organizations encourage growth and discover solutions.”  

No one chooses a complicated pregnancy, an early delivery, or for their newborn to be admitted to the NICU. How can neonatal therapists align with parents’ needs?  Jordan discloses that neonatal therapists need “patience and an understanding of how to meet the parents where they are and teach them at their level.” She reveals that “it’s hard to connect in a world of fear for your child, but when an exceptional therapist takes the time to listen to the parents’ struggles, they can have a better understanding on how to teach and support the family unit, not just the child.” Katie provides additional insights, “A straight logical and task-oriented approach with parents experiencing trauma will go right past us. It’s the highly emotionally intelligent, interpersonal skills with the technical skills that prepare us to graduate the NICU and care for our babies.” Katie also expressed the importance of neonatal therapists making their presence and purpose known. “I wish the therapist made themselves more obvious stating what their role is and providing the ‘why’ behind what they do.”  

By joining the NTCB, Jordan and Katie have declared their intention to support the mission to recognize and advance inter-professional neonatal therapy through evidence-based certification standards including validation of clinical experience and knowledge essential for effective delivery of neonatal therapy. “My goal is to give a parent’s perspective on ensuring that the NICU therapists receive consistent training that will advance their skills and knowledge for teaching and supporting preemies and their families,” states Jordan. Katie agrees, “The value of knowing that a Certified Neonatal Therapist is providing services would increase my trust in the services provided and it would tell me there is a level of credibility in the care given.”    

Thank you to Katie and Jordan for volunteering your time to the mission of the NTCB and helping us understand the importance of the Certified Neonatal Therapist in optimal care.