March 2021 – Preemie Professional Highlight

Lena Papadakis
Maternal Fetal Medicine Intern – Brigham and Women’s Hospital
“MFM and NICU research go hand-in-hand; in order to help both mother and child, you must always consider the other and how your actions may affect their outcome.” – Lena

PreemieWorld:  How long have you been working in your field?
Lena:  1 year

PreemieWorld:  Why did you choose your current profession?
Lena:  As a prior preemie myself, I know firsthand the importance that research and science play in supporting at-risk maternal patients and their little ones! Having grown up in and out of hospitals, I bring a longstanding admiration for the miracles of critical care medicine, and a passion to help improve the lives of patients, no matter how small. Thus, I jumped at the opportunity to work in Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM) research at my current hospital, which serves as a large, academic, regional perinatal care center. While there, I combine my knowledge of science and research with my unique perspective as a longstanding patient to help challenge and incite change in MFM and NICU medicine to develop a safer, more effective, and equitable standard of care.

PreemieWorld:  What do you want other professionals to know about what you do?

Lena:  I want other professionals to acknowledge that there are more to patients than their conditions, that larger, systemic, or even social factors may play just as important of a role in a patients’ life, and that those factors should not be disregarded or handed off to another department simply because it is not a tangible, easily treatable issue.

PreemieWorld:  What advice do you give to preemie parents?

Lena:  Never lose hope! 90 days in the NICU, 40 times going under anesthesia, and over 10 years of hospital admissions still haven’t deterred me or prevented me in any way from pursuing my dream. If anything, those challenges have made me stronger. So embrace the unique strength in your preemie baby and never lose hope that they too will be able to pursue their dreams, regardless of any diagnosis!

PreemieWorld:  Fun Facts: Tell us a fun or quirky fact about you.

Lena:  I’m a triplet! I have two sisters, one is identical and the other is fraternal. We were born 32 weeks premature, although neither of them faced any long-term health conditions.

PreemieWorld:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Lena:  This past summer I founded my own charity to help pediatric child life and wellness programs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, aptly naming it Preemie to Pre-Med, a title that describes the unbelievable journey I have decided to pursue. As someone who spent over 90 days in the NICU and faced 10 years of subsequent pediatric readmissions, I would not be here without the amazing support of my team and the child life program at the hospital where I was treated. When I heard these programs were struggling as a result of the ongoing pandemic, I vowed to use my unique position as a longstanding pediatric patient to raise funds to support the very pediatric hospital which saved my life: MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC). I often reflect that I have every reason to not want to step in another hospital ever again–and yet, I am dedicating my life to becoming a physician. That decision would not have been possible without the child life program at MGHfC. Their child life specialists taught me how truly amazing medicine can be, and since then, I’ve never turned back.