Friday, September 22, 2000

A big heart for tiny babies

Tricia Marmer's career as neonatal intensive care nurse helped her to know about life and love

By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Everyone has a story worth telling. At least, that's the theory. To test it, Tempo is throwing darts at the phone book. When a dart hits a name, a reporter dials the phone number and asks if someone in the home will be interviewed.

        As far back as grade school, Tricia Marmer knew she wanted a career that kept her in close contact with children. The reason was simple. “I love kids,” she says.

[photo] Jeff, Ashley and Tricia Marmer.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        The Loveland resident, who turns 30 on Sunday, decided to become a registered nurse. That led to jobs in neonatal intensive care units in Charleston, S.C., then Jacksonville, Fla., and finally the Regional Center for Newborn Intensive Care at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati.

        For seven years, hers was a world of blips and beeps and buzzers, of monitors and tubes and needles, of tiny bodies breathing with the help of ventilators.

        The job allowed her to touch lives in meaningful ways. Sometimes, it broke her heart.

        Mrs. Marmer remembers when her first preemie died, a few months after she started work in Charleston. It wasn't her baby, of course, but she thought of it that way; she was the primary nurse caregiver.

        “I just cried right along with the parents,” she says. Then she came home to husband Jeff and sobbed again.

        She remembers coming on duty one night in Jacksonville and getting a simple but important assignment: hold a dying baby.

        “They do know,” she says of her tiny patients, some small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. “They know if they're by themselves.”

        And she remembers Marty, of course. Not that Marty's mother would ever let her forget.

        Sterling Martin “Marty” Liner was delivered during an emergency Caesarean section on Nov. 9, 1993, at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Twelve weeks premature, he weighed just 2 pounds, 6 ounces, and was 14 inches long.

        His mother, Faye Liner, was stunned the first time she got to see him, the day after his birth. He was “not like any Gerber baby I've ever seen. My little finger was bigger around than this child's arms or legs,” she says from her home in Cottageville, S.C.

        Mrs. Liner was not allowed to hold him. Instead, she watched as he was cared for by a nurse with friendly brown eyes.

        Tricia Marmer.

        Working a 12-hour day shift, Mrs. Marmer was the nurse Mrs. Liner saw and spoke with most often in the days and weeks ahead.

        She was the one who encouraged Mrs. Liner to put her hands into the two holes of the Isolette, where the baby lay.

        “When you touch him,” Mrs. Marmer told her, “he can smell you and he knows who you are.”

        She was the one whose calm demeanor helped settle Mrs. Liner, who was almost certain that her frail little boy would die.

        And most mornings, she was the one who discussed the “gram report” with Mrs. Liner. It detailed Marty's weight gain from the previous day, each additional gram being cause for joy.

        Almost a month after Marty's birth, Mrs. Marmer said to Mrs. Liner: “I have a surprise for you today. How would you like to hold him?”

        Marty weighed 3 pounds at that point. Mrs. Marmer picked up the infant, still attached to tubes and wires, and placed him in his mother's arms for the first time.

        As Marty continued to improve, Mrs. Marmer taught Marty's mother the basics of care, including how to diaper him. Then the day arrived when Marty was healthy enough to leave, and Mrs. Marmer said goodbye.

        The Marmers were living in Jacksonville when the invitation arrived for Marty's first birthday party. They drove three hours to be there.

        He has grown a lot since then. Now almost 50 inches tall, he's still on the lean side, but doing fine.

        Mrs. Liner, a 45-year-old investigator for the federal government, can't help but brag a little about her only child, who is in first grade. “His teachers tell me how smart he is,” she says.

        The only remnants of his 10-week hospital stay: small needle marks on his heels and his hands, where blood was drawn daily.

        “I'm telling you, God was looking out for us,” Mrs. Liner says. “He was there when this was going on, and he picked certain people to take care of that child until I could do it myself.”

        One of them, she says, was Tricia Marmer. Marty always seemed to do a little better on the days when she was there.

        “She's a special person in our life,” Mrs. Liner says. “She's more than just some nurse that took care of us in the hospital. I want (Marty) to know and appreciate not only who she is, but what she did. I feel as close to her as I do some members of my family.

        “I trusted her with his life. You can't do any more than that. That means something to me forever.”

        Faye Liner and Tricia Marmer keep in touch with cards and letters. Mrs. Liner mails pictures of Marty, and Mrs. Marmer sends photos of her 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Ashley.

        Soon there will be more photos to share. Any day now, Mrs. Marmer will give birth to her second child.

        Because of that, she quit her job at Children's last month. She says she will return to nursing someday, but for now, she'll concentrate on caring for her own children.

        There is a mother in Cottageville, S.C., who knows they couldn't be in better hands.


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