Our Nurses of the Week are Kyle Cook, 53, and Carla Saunders, 51, neonatal nurse practitioners at a children’s hospital in Knoxville, TN. After decades spent caring for infants, these two nurses recognized a major problem when they had six babies in the nursery at once suffering from substance withdrawal. After looking to experts for answers on how to treat these delicate patients, they discovered that no one yet had the answers, and became the experts themselves.

It was 2010 when Cook and Saunders began to see the effects of the opioid crisis themselves. The first time they realized that they had a problem was when they had six babies suffering at once, but that number quickly began to grow. Cook, 53, tells NPR.org:

“We couldn’t fix it; we couldn’t make these babies better. Little did we know that was the tip of the iceberg. We had 10, and then 15, and then, at one point, 37 babies in the NICU that were withdrawing. We were bursting at the seams.”

Unprepared and short-staffed, they knew they needed to find a new solution because their current practice wasn’t helping the inconsolable infants they were attempting to treat. They worked at a small children’s hospital, but knew that the problem they were facing was a representation of a greater substance abuse problem happening all over the US.

When they called across the country looking for experts to advise them on how to treat these special patients, they discovered that nobody had the answers. They were left to find the answers themselves, and wound up helping to establish one of the first treatment protocols for babies exposed to opioids and a program connecting mothers with treatment and therapy options.

To learn more about Cook and Saunders’ experience treating babies suffering from opioid withdrawal, listen to the full podcast below:

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