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Former NICU baby returns to Sharp — as an employee

By The Health News Team | June 15, 2023
Karen Anderson, Cashel Gaffey and Carmen Colombo at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns

From left to right: Karen Anderson, Cashel Gaffey and Carmen Colombo

Cashel Gaffey was born more than 30 years ago at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns. But Carmen Colombo, chief nursing officer and vice president of the Sharp HealthCare Specialty Hospitals, still remembers Gaffey’s adorable coos.

“She had the sweetest eyes, and I remember her little nose,” says Colombo, who at the time, was a nurse at Sharp Mary Birch’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Gaffey was born premature at 28 weeks, weighing about 3 pounds. Her care team consisted of Colombo as her primary nurse with Karen Anderson, clinical supervisor of Social Work at Sharp Mary Birch, acting as her family social worker. She was intubated during her six-week NICU stay until she grew strong enough to go home.

Cashel Gaffey of San Diego at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns

Cashel Gaffey was intubated for six weeks at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.

“My parents felt reassured with our Sharp caregivers, including Carmen and Karen, looking out for me from the day I was born,” says Gaffey. “They appreciated the vigilant and attentive care I received.”

As a social worker, Anderson provided crisis and supportive counseling for Gaffey’s parents. She and her team continue to provide these services today for other parents at Sharp Mary Birch.

“We help parents bond with their baby as well as offer useful perinatal resources,” says Anderson. “We also help parents feel more at ease about their baby being in the NICU.”

An unbroken bond

Throughout the decades, Gaffey stayed in touch with Colombo and Anderson by occasionally visiting them at the hospital. She later moved out of state to attend college and ended up earning a graduate degree in social work.

“My personal upbringing has always involved helping folks in need,” Gaffey says. “‘If you can do something to make someone’s sorrow a little less sorrowful, or someone’s joy a little more joyful, do it — and you will not be forgotten’ is my family mantra from my great-grandmother. I take incredible pride in it.”

Over the years, Gaffey developed experience working with at-risk high school students, patients in a psychiatric unit, and children with craniofacial differences. Once she returned to San Diego in 2017, she hoped to work at Sharp Mary Birch due to its high standard of care.

Her wish came true when an opening for a social worker position became available a few months ago. Gaffey applied and got the job. Today, she counsels new parents to adjust to their new role and provides the same kind of support Anderson offered years ago.

“Working as a direct report to Karen is truly such an honor,” Gaffey says. “I was so happy to learn that Carmen still worked here too. The support they gave to my parents during an extremely stressful time in their lives makes me want to extend that same reassurance to all the families here.”

Both Anderson and Colombo feel proud to see Gaffey, their former patient, as a thriving adult. “It really gives meaning to the work we do as a team in the NICU,” Anderson says.

Learn more about Sharp Mary Birch’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU); get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.


Cashel Gaffey


Cashel Gaffey is a social worker at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.


Carmen Colombo


Carmen Colombo is the chief nursing officer and vice president of the Sharp HealthCare Specialty Hospitals.

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