Alberta family thanks NICU nurse for going ‘above and beyond’

Watch above: Connor Topilko weighed just two pounds when he was born and spent the first 65 days of his life in hospital. Now, his family is thanking the nurse who cared for him. Emily Mertz has more.

EDMONTON – He weighed just two pounds when he was born. Now, four-year-old Connor Topilko and his family are thanking the nurse who helped them through that difficult beginning.

As part of Alberta Health Services’ ‘Passion for Health’ initiative, healthcare workers are featured in special videos and thanked for the work they do and the difference they make in patients’ lives.

As soon as Sarah Topilko heard about the ‘Because You Cared’ project, she knew she wanted to recognize Gwenn O’Neill, the neonatal intensive care nurse who helped care for Connor in those tough, early days.

“Gwenn just went above and beyond,” says Sarah. “She was actually there the night Connor was born.”

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Connor was born at just 27 weeks gestation. Sarah developed a serious medical condition that made an emergency c-section necessary. From that night on, Sarah and her husband, Trevor, were supported by Gwenn’s help – medical and otherwise.

“She was just that comforting presence. When I knew that she was there, I was at ease,” says Sarah. “I think the hardest thing about having a baby in the hospital is when you have to leave them at night. She often worked evenings.

“I just felt better leaving him because I knew she was there.”

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Gwenn would write messages on the whiteboard next to Connor’s bed, updating his parents on how he slept that night. She also brought tiny little outfits for Connor that would fit a premature baby.

Connor was in the hospital for 65 days.

When the Topilkos heard there was a way they could thank Gwenn for her care, they jumped at the chance and worked with AHS to surprise her at work.

WATCH: AHS’ Because You Cared: Grateful for NICU Care 

What did Gwenn think of the surprise reunion?

“Absolutely shocked. I was in disbelief. I had no idea that was happening.”

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She says helping families like the Topilkos is the reason she loves her job.

“It’s a job that allows you to use all your caring capacity and all you have to help these families.

“I think any NICU nurse loves their job… it’s just who they are.”

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Gwenn adds the special AHS tribute was an honour.

“I’m completely flattered, and I’m honoured. I’d just like to take this opportunity to tell other nurses that it’s the little things we do and it doesn’t take much to impact a family with what you do, with your caring.”

And, after four years, Gwenn was thrilled to see Connor’s progress.

“He was a special little boy when he was a little preemie on the unit and I fell in love with him and his family. [Then] I was amazed at what a beautiful, articulate little boy he was and fell in love with him again.

“He’s an amazing little boy.”

To nominate a healthcare worker, visit the Passion for Health website.