Fort McMurray moms and new babies welcomed with open arms

Welcoming a child into the world is supposed to be one of life’s most wonderful experiences. But in the midst of one of the worst wildfires in Alberta’s history, maternity patients transferred from the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre are meeting their children for the first time in unimaginable circumstances.

Staff at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital greeting these new parents are doing everything in their power to make the families feel safe and accepted while also addressing their medical needs.

“It’s traumatizing when you’re delivering not in an institution,” says Shelina Kassam, a registered nurse at the Grey Nuns. “Thinking about that weighs you down—thinking about what they were going through. You have no answers except to say, ‘You’re safe now. You’re here with us. We’ll do all the rest.’” 

“That’s the first thing I said when my patient arrived: ‘We’re so glad you’re here.’”

Shawna McNernie, a licensed practical nurse on the same unit as Shelina

Beyond the trauma of being evacuated from their homes, some new moms had difficult pregnancies and births as well. One of Shawna McNernie’s patients delivered twin baby boys in Fort McMurray and was evacuated not long after her caesarean section. The medical complexities of caring for twins can be hard enough, but fortunately, mom and her boys are adjusting well. 

“Thankfully her babies are fine. We get a lot of twins that are a lot of work! She was a good mom to be in this situation; she adapted quite well and got those babies here safe and healthy,” says McNernie. 

It’s also important for both patients and the healthcare workers on the front line with them not to forget about self-care. The events unfolding because of the wildfires are far from over, and there will be many more difficult days ahead.

“It’s been more of an emotional day than a stressful day,” says McNernie.

“I’m very concerned about how they’re feeling,” Kassam adds.

When asked how she would practise self-care, McNernie answers, “Just being here with each other. Our co-workers. This is another family for a lot of us, and we’re all good team players and working together. We get support through that, through each other.”

(From left) Lynn Laskoski, Shawna McNernie and Shelina Kassam are just three of many who are working hard to make patients feel welcomed and at home.

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