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BJH nurse discovers student shadowing her was a patient — 23 years ago

Unique story attracts national media attention September 22, 2022
September 22, 2022 Unique story attracts national media attention

Debbie Layton has cared for thousands of newborns in her 36 years as a nurse. So, she’s not surprised when their moms sometimes recognize her in restaurants or at the grocery store.

But it was a rare and rewarding surprise when she encountered one of the newborns — now grown and a nursing student — shadowing her in the Barnes-Jewish Hospital newborn assessment center (NAC).

On a day in late June, several Goldfarb School of Nursing students were on a clinical rotation in obstetrics, shadowing nurses, including Layton and the NAC staff, in the BJH Women and Infants Center.

Near the end of the shift, the students’ instructor told Layton that one of the students, Ben, had been born 23 years earlier at BJH and may have been Layton’s patient.

Then, the student told Layton his last name, “Hellebusch,” and explained that he was a one of a set of quadruplet boys born at the hospital. He shared that his mother had named the boys Adam, Benjamin, Christopher and Dylan — to match the way the babies had been labeled during their delivery, with the firstborn “baby A,” the second “baby B,” and so on.

Both Hellebusch’s last name and the story about the alphabetical names jogged Layton’s memory. Not only had she cared for him and his brothers in the old BJH special care nursery, but she had also been at the delivery.

“I was totally shocked,” she says. “I remembered the last name and the story about how they were named. I remember thinking at the time it was the cutest thing.”

Layton has been drawn to taking care of babies since she graduated from nursing school.  “I knew where my heart was — my heart was always with babies,” she says.

She started on the night shift in the neonatal intensive care unit at the old Deaconess Hospital. She also worked at Nurses for Newborns. She enjoyed helping at-risk infants and their mothers get off to a healthy start.

When a job became available in the BJH special care nursery, Layton jumped at the opportunity.

She finds caring for babies with complex issues deeply satisfying, and working at a high-risk, high-volume center like BJH allows her to do that daily.

“I feel like I’m able to make more of a difference here,” she says.

BJC HealthCare has also provided a supportive work environment throughout her career as a single, working mother, she says. “BJC has been there for me when I’ve gone through things.”

Those factors have been important reasons for Layton’s longevity— 26 years — at BJH.

And she’s not the only one of the Hellebusch quadruplets’ former caregivers still working for BJC, says Layton. At least two other nurses at BJH and one at St. Louis Children’s Hospital took care of the quadruplets. She hopes to put them in touch with Ben Hellebusch, too.

In the meantime, Layton and Hellebusch met again, this time in front of TV cameras reporting on their remarkable reunion.

While being interviewed, Hellebusch said that he and his brothers are all pursuing different career paths. He chose nursing because he had always wanted to help people and he liked the security and wide range of experiences a nursing career offers.

Though he had never even held a baby before his obstetric rotation, his background as a quad, his time shadowing in the Women and Infants Center and his meeting with Layton had piqued his interest in newborn or pediatric nursing, he said.

Layton heartily encourages him to think about entering the field. “I think he’d be great at it,” she said. “We could definitely use him.”

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