Some people are just born to be nurses. Chester County Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) nurse Victoria DiBerardino, BSN, RN, is one of those people.
For as long as she or her mother can remember, DiBerardino has wanted to be a nurse. Specifically, a nurse who works with babies. It’s a calling that may have had a lot to do with the first few weeks of DiBerardino’s life.
A Rocky Start
“It was Labor Day weekend, and I wasn’t feeling great,” recalls Beth Shirlow, DiBerardino’s mom. “I was 28 weeks pregnant, and because this was my first baby, I wasn’t sure what was going on.”
When Shirlow finally got to see her doctor she was already effaced and dilating. She would spend the next few weeks in the Labor and Delivery Unit at Chester County Hospital (CCH) while her medical team worked to stave off labor. On October 19, at just 35 weeks into her pregnancy, Shirlow gave birth to her daughter.
“Victoria weighed six pounds 12 ounces at birth, but had trouble feeding and keeping breast milk and most formulas down; as a result, she began losing weight,” Shirlow says. “When it was time for me to be discharged, I had to leave her with the NICU team while they worked to sort things out.”
It was an experience that still brings Shirlow to tears.
“Leaving the hospital without my daughter was so hard,” she says. “Even though I was able to go every day to hold her and do the tube feedings, it wasn’t the same as having her home with me.”
The NICU team managed to find a formula that baby Victoria could tolerate, and after two weeks in the NICU, she was finally able to bring her home.
“Other than having to take Victoria to her pediatrician for daily weight checks for the first couple weeks, that was really the end of it,” Shirlow says. “She, thankfully, had no other problems from that point forward.”
Heeding a Calling
DiBerardino has a photo, taken at her nursery school graduation, that was an early indicator of her chosen career path. “I’m wearing a stethoscope and carrying a doctor’s bag,” she laughs. “So you know I was serious about this.”
In high school, DiBerardino took allied health courses and remembers devouring the medical terminology. Nursing school at nearby Neumann University followed. “Staying local was important to me, especially since I knew I wanted to someday work at Chester County Hospital,” DiBerardino says.
But because the hospital only hires experienced nurses for its NICU, she first went to work at Lancaster General’s Women and Babies Hospital for two years following graduation. It was at this time that CCH began seeing an uptick in its NICU patients, while Lancaster’s case volumes were decreasing. A unit manager asked DiBerardino if she would like to participate in a staff-sharing program between the two Penn Medicine hospitals.
It was the foot in the door that she needed.
In March 2020, DiBerardino realized her lifelong dream when she was asked to permanently join the NICU team at her beloved hometown hospital, while remaining a Penn Medicine employee.
The irony of her situation isn’t lost on DiBerardino. “Working as a NICU nurse in the same NICU where I was a patient 30 years ago is kind of crazy; it really has come full circle,” she says. “Some of my colleagues are certain they had to have taken care of me. But maybe that’s why I’m so happy here — it feels like home.”
Another reason DiBerardino feels she belongs is the unique connection she’s able to create with the parents who make the NICU their world for anywhere from a few days to a few months.
“I know from my mother how devastating it is to leave your baby in the NICU,” DiBerardino shares. “So when I have a mom who is struggling, or if I have a family whom I think will benefit, I will tell them that I was a NICU baby here and share my story. I like to think that it provides them with some comfort and relief.”
DiBerardino is trying to live up to a standard she was made aware of early in her life.
“The members of the NICU team who care for these babies and their families make such a difference,” she says. “To this day, my mom still talks about the nurses and how they had a baby shower for her. She and my father — who worked here in the Biomedical Department — have always had wonderful things to say about Chester County Hospital as a whole. It’s a part of our lives.”
As a child, DiBerardino used to love hearing her mother — also a nurse — tell stories about her older adult patients. Now the roles are reversed, and DiBerardino is the one sharing the stories. For Shirlow, it’s a point of great pride.
“I hear how she supports these mothers and can’t help but think, that was me once,” she says. “I know how important those nurses were to me and now my daughter is one of them. For her, it’s not a job, it’s who she is. And I couldn’t be prouder.”