by Andrea Maneri“Seeing a surviving preemie 21 years later, graduating from the same nursing program I attended…it’s hard to put into words how much it touched me. That was the highlight of my career. It reaffirmed that my life and the work I do has all been worthwhile.”—Kathryn (Wilgosz) Chiddo ’77
Following her junior year at Adelphi, Kathryn (Wilgosz) Chiddo ’77 was offered an internship at Long Island Jewish Hospital, which is today known as North Shore-LIJ’s Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York. That summer, she was placed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)—and she has been there ever since.
Over the course of the four decades Chiddo has been working as a nurse, she has had the opportunity to witness extraordinary progress in the field of neonatal care.
“When I started, there weren’t pulse oximeter. We dud arterial sticks to monitor their blood gases every hour hours. Some infants would get wrist drop from sticking them in the artery,” she said. “Today, we have many more noninvasive ways to monitor the babies. We are doing less invasive procedures.”
Chiddo has also been involved in numerous research trials, one of the most notable being for replacement surfactant to treat premature lung disease.
“Often premature babies’ lungs don’t produce enough surfactant, which relaxes the lungs and facilitates successful breaths when the infant goes from the fluid-filled womb to breathing air after birth. It’s necessary for normal lung function throughout post-natal life,” Chiddo said. “Now that we have replacement surfactant, we can decrease the amount of time the babies will spend on a ventilator, as well as side effects that might result from extended oxygen therapy.”
When she began her career in the 1970s, Chiddo recalled being able to save premature babies born at 27 to 28 weeks. Over time, she has seen an NICU’s gradual ability to save babies born at 24 to 26 weeks. The youngest baby she has seen survive in her career was born at 23 weeks.
Throughout the years, Chiddo never forgot the role Adelphi played in helping her find her niche and launch her career.“There is nothing better than seeing a premature baby doing well and progressing towards discharge…being able to watch the babies I have cared for go home with their families,” she said.
I came from a middle class family,” she said. “My parents didn’t have the money to send me to college.” She received a full scholarship to Adelphi. “Because I received that funding, I didn’t have the added stress of how how I’d pay for my education on top of classes, working, studying and completing my clinical experiences,” she said.
In 2012, Chiddo established the Kathryn Wilgosz Chiddo ’77 Award in Pediatric Nursing to help current students pay for their education. “Adelphi gave me my career, my livelihood,” she said. “I want to give someone else what Adelphi gave me.”
In addition to supporting Adelphi’s future nurses financially, she continues to give back to current students by sharing her knowledge, expertise and advice with them. “I seek out students during their clinicals all the time to give them an experience in our unit,” she said.
One particular morning last year, word spread that one of the Adelphi students present had been a premature baby in this very unit 21 years ago.
“A fellow nurse approached me to tell this because I had been working here at that time,” said Chiddo, who introduced herself to Nicole Algerio ’13—the Adelphi student who had been a former patient. When she showed a picture of her parents, Chiddo said, “I recalled her mother. I cared for her after she was born and in our neonatal intensive care unit.”
That same semester, she presented the inaugural Kathryn Wilgosz Chiddo ’77 Award in Pediatric Nursing to an Adelphi nursing student—and Algerio was selected as one of the recipients.
One might think it would be difficult for a nurse of 38 years to cite her proudest accomplishment, but for Chiddo it was not. “Seeing a surviving preemie 21 years later, graduating from the same nursing program I attended…it’s hard to put into words how much it touched me,” she said. “That was the highlight of my career. It reaffirmed that my life and the work I do has all been worthwhile.”