Coming full circle: from preemie to employee
Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) environmental aide Meredith John is one of our newest staff members, having joined the team at McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) in June as a part-time employee. But the Hamilton teen is no stranger to MCH.
In fact, the first five months of her life were spent in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Meredith and her twin sister Courtney, 18, were born at MCH in 2005. Arriving almost 10 weeks early, Meredith weighed four pounds while Courtney weighed just one pound, 12 ounces.
“They defied the odds at every turn.” — Angela John, parent
But despite Meredith being the more robust of the two, she ended up spending significantly more time in the NICU due to serious, life-threatening health challenges.
The pregnancy was rife with complications that continued once the twins were born, says their mother Angela John, a Hamilton social worker.
“Courtney was able to come home after nine weeks in the NICU, while Meredith spent five months there,” says Angela.
Yet in spite of a very rough start, the twins graduated from Grade 12 this June and both received entrance scholarships to university. “They defied the odds at every turn,” says Angela.
Meredith is attending McMaster University in the fall, where she’s enrolled in the honours health and society program with the goal of becoming a social worker like her mom. Courtney is heading to Brock University, where she’s studying to become a teacher. They’re sharing their story to give hope to other families with premature babies.
Meredith and Courtney were little fighters as infants, says Angela. Courtney was so tiny that she wasn’t expected to survive the delivery room, yet it was Meredith at more than twice her sister’s size who faced life-threatening complications.
Both babies developed necrotizing enterocolitis, a serious gastrointestinal problem that mostly affects premature babies. Courtney recovered quickly, but Meredith needed several surgeries and developed a potentially deadly infection that led to multiple complications.
Meredith also developed several eye conditions, and was monitored by MCH’s ophthalmology department until the age of 14. Courtney continues to have asthma and allergies, attributed to her premature birth. But beyond those ongoing issues, they developed into healthy young adults.
After such a rocky start, and years of hospital visits, it would be understandable if Meredith chose anywhere but a hospital to work. But she applied to the hospital where she was born.
“I knew in high school that I wanted to work in health care,” says Meredith. “I wasn’t drawn to math and science so I thought of social work.”
In her first semester of Grade 12, Meredith took part in the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board’s co-op program for health care support services, with placements at HHS. Over the course of the semester, she job shadowed and assisted environmental aides, who are responsible for cleaning rooms, and porters, who move patients, at MCH and HHS Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre.
The experience led to her new part-time job at MCH and cemented her decision to pursue a health-care career.
“When I went to McMaster Children’s Hospital to pick up my ID badge, it felt like I had come full circle,” says Meredith. “This is a job I can keep while studying at McMaster, and also gives me valuable work experience in a hospital setting which I think will really help me down the road when I’m eventually looking for work in the health-care field.”