Starship nurse was at the heart of creating children's intensive care unit

Jane Stafford has nursed sick children for 36 years.
Jane Stafford has nursed sick children for 36 years.

Nurse Jane Stafford, who has spent 36 years looking after sick and injured children, was at the forefront of creating the paediatric intensive care unit at the Starship children's hospital.

It was a controversial development. The medical establishment did not at first accept that children's physiological differences from adults meant they needed their own ICU.

The Starship paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) which now has 22 beds, partly because of the shift of children's cardiac care to Starship in 2003, had just seven when the hospital was officially opened 25 years ago on November 18.

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Stafford was central in the team which made the PICU concept a reality, and she recalls it as a career highlight.

"My proudest individual moment was setting up the intensive care unit and that first day when those great nurses stood up and said yeah, we can do it, and they did it.

"They were bold, they were brave and they went into unknown territory. I was so proud of them," said Stafford, who was PICU charge nurse for 13 years and is now nursing in the hospital's day-stay unit.

"I've been a paediatric nurse since 1980. When they were planning the new hospital it was really great because they actually involved staff, so we were involved long before it went up."

At Starship's predecessor, Princess Mary Hospital, Stafford was general paediatrics nurse, so the new hospital with its brand new intensive care unit was an exciting challenge.

"It was enormous - exciting and a bit frightening - but great for the kids because before we opened the children's intensive care unit the children were looked after in an adult intensive care.

"Paediatric nursing and intensive care is quite different - you're very involved with the family, you're very involved with the patient's growth and development and you look after a child in different ways depending on what age they are."

Another new service Stafford was involved in was the establishment of an air ambulance for the national children's hospital, allowing children in urgent need of Starship specialist care to be retrieved quickly.

"During that time we set up the retrieval service where we went out and picked up all sorts of children - that was really rewarding. Because we are a national hospital and the hospital of last resort for some patients, we had to go and fetch so we did that from PICU," says Stafford.

As well as the rewards that come from caring for patients, sometimes from early childhood through to adolescence, Stafford values the camaraderie and shared sense of purpose of the Starship team.

"I've even looked after one of my patient's children - the longer you are in it the more you see them grow up and the next generation comes on."

"I work with really amazing people right through the strata of orderlies right through to the senior consultants, they're all good people and we all have the same end view in mind - the best care possible for the kids and their families."

"I love it, I love my job."

- NZ Herald

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