Kate Higgins

During her twin sons’ time in the Brigham NICU, Ann Marie Rivard, BSN, RN, credited Catherine “Kate” Higgins, BSN, RN, with not only providing exceptional, compassionate care and support, but also inspiring her to follow her dreams professionally.

“I owe not only my boys’ lives to Kate, but also my career,” said Rivard, a former Brigham nurse. “She is an exceptional nurse.”

For these reasons, Rivard nominated Higgins for this year’s NICU Hero Award presented by Hand to Hold ®, a national nonprofit dedicated to providing personalized emotional support, education and community for NICU and bereaved parents. The annual award honors a NICU nurse, neonatologist, social worker or other NICU professional for exemplifying compassion and kindness while providing excellent care. NICU parents in more than 20 states submitted nominations, and more than 5,000 votes were cast for the nominees.

Higgins was announced as this year’s recipient during a Nov. 4 ceremony held by Hand to Hold.

‘Full Circle’

From a very young age, Higgins knew that she wanted to dedicate her career to working in a NICU.

“I myself am a NICU graduate — born three months early, weighing 2 pounds, 4 ounces — and I have thought about this career path for as long as I can remember,” said Higgins, who has been a NICU nurse since 2001. “It’s a very special job to have, and I love what I do. It’s come full circle for me as a NICU preemie now caring for NICU babies.”

Higgins is especially attuned to the needs of NICU parents during a very vulnerable and frightening time in their lives.

“When we met Kate, it was our second time in the NICU. It was taxing to pump around the clock, take care of my 14 month old, commute to the NICU and then drive home and do it all again the next day,” said Rivard. “Sometimes I would be crying before I even walked through the door. Kate just always knew the right thing to say.”

Higgins provided the utmost support for Rivard, encouraging her to take care of herself and acknowledging her feelings. “One time she set up the couch in the room and told me to take a much-needed nap,” Rivard recalled.

When Rivard and Higgins met, Higgins had just returned from a leave of absence after her son passed away. “Our boys were the first patients she had since she returned,” said Rivard. “I was so moved and touched. She was so loving to both our boys and us as a family while she mourned the loss of her son.”

‘The Best Job I’ve Ever Had’
The conversations between the two nurses often turned to their profession, and Rivard, who worked in the Burn, Trauma, Surgical Intermediate Care Unit, asked Higgins what it was like to practice in the NICU.

“I was inspired to become a NICU nurse, but I was intimidated to make the switch,” Rivard said. “Kate encouraged me every time she saw me.”

Rivard and her family eventually moved to Virginia, where she followed her heart and achieved her goal of working as a nurse in a level 3 NICU.

“It’s the best job I’ve ever had, and I couldn’t be happier,” Rivard said.