NEONATAL ICU Nurse sees her destiny in caring for preemies
She returns to work with the staff that helped her live as a premature infant.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- She didn't know at the time.
How could she? She was so young and almost too little to live.
Allison Striker allows for the cosmic possibility, however, that her first labored breath charted the course for her career.
"I always wanted to work with kids in pediatrics," said the new nurse at the Ohio State University Medical Center. "I can't recall wanting to do anything else."
With her addition to the OSU staff in June, she returned home.
As a professional caregiver in the neonatal intensive-care unit, she fights for the lives of premature infants in the very place where, 23 years ago, she fought valiantly for her own survival.
And she works with the doctor and nurses who saved her.
"Twenty-three years ago," said her mother, Linda, "when her father and I were sitting in the waiting room, scared to death that she was going to die, we could not have imagined that Allison would grow up to come back and work where she was born.
"It is just so exciting for us and humbling that she is giving back to those who gave her so much."
Mrs. Striker drafted the first lines in the blueprint for her daughter's future when she delivered Allison on June 19, 1982.
So small that her veins showed through pencil-thin limbs, the 2-pound baby had a tragedy to redress and a destiny to fulfill if she survived.
"I was scared to death," Mrs. Striker repeated.
Fifteen minutes after Allison arrived with a tenuous hold on life, her identical twin sister was stillborn.
"I was grieving for the child I lost," Mrs. Striker recalled, "and trying to be happy for the child I had."
A placenta disorder had starved the twins of oxygen and nutrients. They were delivered six weeks early, at 34 weeks.
Allison -- named after her father, Al -- was the size of an infant 10 weeks younger.
"She was not what I thought I was going to see, even though I knew she was a preemie," Mrs. Striker said. "I didn't want the family to see her. Her head was so small, I could wrap my hand around it."
Moments that most mothers cherish -- seeing and touching their newborns -- left her unsettled.
"I was afraid to get too attached. That was the hardest thing I have ever gone through. I would see her in the unit, then go back to my bed and cry."
Battling to live
With her organs and immune system underdeveloped, Allison battled to stave off infections and other life-threatening complications.
At the time, in mid-1982, Dr. Leandro Cordero pegged the chance of survival for babies with such a birth weight at 20 percent.
Those who survived had an 80 percent chance of growing up with developmental problems. (Thanks to medical and technological advances, the odds have since reversed.)
Feeling uneasy, Mrs. Striker left her infant behind to go home.
Family and friends helped care for their 6-year-old daughter, Amy, so the couple could drive several days a week from Richland County to Columbus.
Five weeks later, with her weight doubled, Allison could be taken home.
Still, her parents worried.
"I didn't feel like she was out of the woods until she was 6 or 7 months old," Mrs. Striker said. "I slept with my eyes open."
As a little girl, Allison continued to defy the odds.
Teachers wanted to hold her back from school a year. Her parents wouldn't hear of it: They recognized their daughter as bright, driven and caring.
Allison progressed through school as a model student, especially strong in the sciences.
"In the early middle-school years, she told us she wanted to be a nurse," her mother said.
From where did the calling come? The family had no doctors or nurses.
Allison graduated near the top of her class at Shelby High School and summa cum laude from the Capital University School of Nursing.
She landed her first job at Children's Hospital last year before kismet, karma or the stars took her full circle.
Symbol of hope
Dr. Cordero, director of the division of neonatal-perinatal care, has received about 29,000 babies since he arrived 34 years ago at OSU.
Yet his reintroduction to Allison this summer triggered detailed memories of her birth.
"It's strange how the mind works," he said. "The loss of her sister and the adversity that her mother experienced made her situation unusual. ... I can still see her mother sitting next to Allison."
Half of the 30 nurses on the staff when Allison was born still work in the unit.
To them, she represents a daily reminder of the fruits of their skill and devotion.
Their patient matured into an all-American colleague who enjoys shopping, dating and going to movies, eating junk food and running marathons.
"I get goose bumps every time I see that child," said Sue Stephen, a nurse who cared for Allison.
Valerie Fairchild, another nurse, was with her 23 years ago almost every day for five weeks.
"Everybody here was so excited to work with her," Fairchild said. "It's like having a family member come back."
To mothers agonizing over uncertain outcomes for sons and daughters, Allison serves as a symbol of hope.
She readily shares her history.
"Parents can see a future for their tiny babies through Allison," Dr. Cordero said. "They can project and dream through her."
Allison doesn't deny she was meant to be there.
"There is a plan for all of us," she said, "and a reason why people end up where they do."