Vanessa Mallilo's Story

Vanessa Mallilo

“I am so grateful that I can achieve my dream of being a NICU nurse. I do my work from my heart with compassion and healing hands, to give my patients strength just like I had. I want to be an example that miracles are possible.”

Almost 24 years since Anna Reices-Mallilo went into labor with her first child, she remembers the birth vividly. “I went to the doctor for my six-month prenatal checkup, and everything was fine. Then four days later, she was born, Anna recalls. “I went into spontaneous labor. I had no idea what to expect. I was giving birth to a micro-preemie not even knowing what a micro-preemie was at the time.”

Born at 24 weeks, weighing 1 pound 8 ounces, Vanessa Mallilo was facing a potential uphill battle to survive. Micro-preemies—babies born weighing less than 1 pound 12 ounces or before 26 weeks gestation—are extremely fragile and are at increased risk of respiratory disease, retinal disease, hemorrhaging, and sepsis. Vanessa was rushed from the delivery room at New York Hospital Queens (now known as NewYork-Presbyterian Queens) to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where the doctors quickly assessed her condition. The physicians and nurses in the NICU knew that Vanessa’s survival depended on her getting specialized care. They transferred her to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

“The doctors there were very honest with us. They told me the first few days were critical for her, and they weren't sure how she was going to do,” Anna recalls. “But she made a big turnaround a few days later when she was taken off the mechanical ventilator and switched to a nasal cannula.”

Vanessa remained in the NICU at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell for 81 days. She developed an intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH)—bleeding at the base of the brain that can cause issues such as cerebral palsy. She also suffered from retinal scarring, which could have caused blindness, and had scars all over her chest from intravenous lines being inserted into her extremely fragile skin. Right beside Vanessa through all of it was her parents.

“My husband and I were at the hospital every day. I think we missed one night because there was a horrible rain storm and that felt like an eternity,” Anna remembers. “I became very good friends with a lot of the nurses there. Two of the nurses that took care of her day and night are now my very good friends. One still works on the unit.”

“I admired those nurses that took care of her day-in-and-day-out. They gave me so much hope,” Anna says.

For the first two years of Vanessa’s life, her parents regularly brought her back to the hospital for a series of visits with specialists to ensure she was developing properly. Vanessa excelled physically and mentally. During high school, Vanessa was a volunteer at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens and knew from an early age she wanted to be a nurse.

Though Vanessa expressed her interest in nursing to her mother throughout her school days, Anna admits she felt so proud when her daughter said she planned to work as a NICU nurse. Vanessa made the decision to dedicate her career to working with children who are where she once was, after reading her mother’s journals from her days in the NICU.

“My mom had a journal that she wrote in when I was in the hospital. She wrote about every experience that she had, every procedure I went through. That journal is what really inspired me to want to be a NICU nurse,” Vanessa says.

After completing her nursing degree at Adelphi University on Long Island, Vanessa landed a job in the NICU where she was born.

“I thought it was a sign when I was called in for an interview at NYP Queens,” she remembers. “It just happened that my nurse manager that interviewed me was the same nurse who admitted me when I was born and put me on the ambulance to NYP/Weill Cornell. It is truly a full circle story.”

“I am so grateful that I can achieve my dream of being a NICU nurse. I do my work from my heart with compassion and healing hands, to give my patients strength just like I had. I want to be an example that miracles are possible.”