Gretta Walters is “truly the mom when mom can’t be there.”
A nurse at University of Louisville Hospital, she cares for infants in the neonatal intensive care unit of the Center for Women & Infants. And she can say something a lot of people can’t say – she never dreads going to work.
“I get to care for babies,” she said. “And I love UofL Hospital, it’s a warm, caring place to work.”
Four years ago, Gretta’s love for what she does changed the life of one of her patients, and her own. Tabby Cooper’s son was born at 26 weeks via an emergency Cesarean section. Gretta was there, doing her job, wrapping Sulli Cooper’s tiny body and placing him in an incubator, where he would live the first two months of his life.
Twenty-three weeks’ gestation is considered the age at which a baby is viable. Little Sulli beat that by three weeks, and he had a long road ahead of him. A few hours after he was stabilized, Gretta came to talk with Tabby.
“She gave me two pictures of my baby boy and told me everything about him,” Tabby said. “And she warned me of the roller coaster ride I was about to endure.”
But she would not have to ride that roller coaster alone. Gretta was there, every step of the way.
“The first few days were agonizing, when I looked at this tiny baby and I wasn’t able to help him,” Tabby said. “I was so afraid to put my hands in the box. He was so fragile. One day, Gretta asked if I’d held him. When I said no, she said ‘We’ll change that.’ She had me place my hands inside his incubator and placed his tiny two-pound body in my hands. She asked if two pounds was heavier or lighter than I imagined. He was heavier than I thought.”
Then one day, Sulli took a turn for the worse, and became very ill.
“Gretta stood by my side, holding me as I cried, not knowing what the future held,” Tabby said. “She sat across from me in the dark as I sat at his bedside, because he was not going to be without his mommy while he was sick.”
Gretta often brought Tabby magazines or books, trying to give her a break.
Eventually, he recovered, and it was finally time for him to go home. “She showed so much love to our tiny baby, and she also cared for me and my husband,” Tabby said.
But once Sulli left the hospital, that wasn’t the end of the family’s time with Gretta. The experience had forged a bond between the two, who became close friends, taking walks at the zoo or park, talking on holidays and sharing stories.
“We do a lot of things with the kids, who I love seeing,” Gretta said. “We spent months together, almost every day and night. It made us close.”
Three years later at UofL Hospital, Gretta was back at Tabby’s side again when Tabby’s triplet daughters came into the world – eight weeks early. “Once again, Gretta reminded me of the crazy ride we were in for. And there she was, encouraging me and my husband, just like before,” Tabby said.
This May, Gretta will have her own special moment as she gets married. Her flower girls will be none other than Tabby’s daughters, who were born as Gretta and her fiancé had just met.
“We talked through the night, and I told her about him,” Gretta said.
Tabby says she’ll never be able to thank Gretta enough. She recently nominated her for a DAISY Award for exceptional nurses from The DAISY Foundation.
“She showed my son, daughters and all the infants she cared for so much love and affection. She provided a tremendous amount of support to the patients, parents and their families. She is truly the mom when mom can’t be there. She is an extraordinary nurse.”
Gretta, who is from Brandenburg, Ky., said she always knew she’d be a nurse or a veterinarian from the time she was 13 years old. She doesn’t have her own children, but caring for others comes naturally for her.
“I love being a nurse,” she said. “It’s a challenge, as you never know what you are going to get. And I love being a nurse at UofL Hospital.”
She said the staff is like a second family, working as a team and spending long days and nights together, and supporting each other during rough times.
“It’s like home,” she said. “I think our patients feel that.”