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Mom and premature baby cared for by same nurses 31 years apart

Lindsay Engel was born prematurely at just 24 weeks. Now 31, she's discovered the same nurses who looked after her as a preemie are also looking after her premature son, Alexander.

Lindsay Engel and her son, Alexander, were both born prematurely

Alexander William Engel was born May 28, 2019 but wasn't due until September. At the time this photo was taken he weighed 820 grams. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

A mom whose third child was born at just 26 weeks says she was surprised to discover that some of the same nurses looking after her son at Children's Hospital in London, Ont. also helped care for her when she was a preemie.

Lindsay Engel's son, Alexander, was born on May 28—a full three months before his due date.

Engel now lives in Waterloo, Ont., but was rushed to the London Health Sciences Centre when she was 25 weeks pregnant due to her worsening preeclampsia.

When he was born via a C-section, Alexander weighed just 630 grams—slightly more than a supermarket brick of butter.

"[It's] really, really early, and really scary and really tough because ... you don't know how that's going to affect them," said Engel.

Charlotte Collie, Annette Deleeuw and Lindsay Engel observe Alexander in his incubator. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Nurse Annette cared for both babies

During these early days, a source of comfort to Engel and her family has been nurses like Annette Deleeuw, who recognize Lindsay and her mother, Charlotte Collie, from Engel's own time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Engel was born in London in 1988 when she was just 24 weeks. Collie said she didn't expect her daughter to live.

"Everything I had read to that point said that under 25 weeks wasn't viable, so I was prepared for the worst," Collie said. "And then I woke up in recovery and they said, 'You have a little wee girl.'" 

At the time, Deleeuw was working her first job in the NICU, after graduating from nursing school the year before. Photos in Lindsay's baby book show Deleeuw feeding and burping a doll-like baby Lindsay.

"It seems so weird right now to see myself back then," said Deleeuw. "It's not very often that [this] happens but it's quite a fascinating and rewarding thing."

A newly-graduated Annette Deleeuw is pictured burping baby Lindsay in Lindsay's baby book. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Why NICU nurses stick around

After she was born, Engel stayed in the NICU for 120 days, which meant that she encountered a large number of nurses, many of whom are still working there. 

"Now that we've been here for two weeks, some of the nurses are coming up to me being like, 'Hey you're Lindsay Collie, I changed your bum!'" said Lindsay.

"With all the crazy shifts that they work, it seems every day there's a new nurse ... that took care of me when I was born that comes in to say hello."

Deleeuw said she and her fellow NICU nurses tend to stick around because they find their work so rewarding. Working with preemies, Deleeuw said, means observing progress.

"It's not very often that it happens, but [to see a preemie return as a parent] is quite a fascinating and rewarding thing," said Deleeuw. "Especially to see her so good ... I'm sorry she had to come visit us but it's nice to see her."

Engel said caring for her new son is an experience full of tears and worries, and she's looking forward to the day when she can be back in her home with all her children under one roof.

But in the meantime, she says the familiar faces surrounding her family have been a source of deep comfort.

"It's like this big safety blanket," she said.

Lindsay Engel is pictured shortly after her premature birth in 1988. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

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