Haley Millhouse knew at an early age that she wanted to be a nurse. “They say kids impacted by healthcare and who are patients themselves are likely to go into the medical field because of how much it impacted their lives,” she said. “And I happen to be one of those kids.”
A routine ultrasound during her mother’s pregnancy revealed that Haley had duodenal atresia. This condition occurs when the intestine does not develop normally, leading to a blockage that prevents liquids and food from passing through the stomach into the rest of the intestine. However, when Haley was born in her hometown Florida hospital in 1999, there were unexpected complications—a heart defect called double outlet right ventricle; a tethered spinal cord; and a double collection on her right kidney. This combination led to the diagnosis of VACTERL, a non-random association of birth defects that affect multiple parts of the body.
Within hours of her birth, Haley was flown to Children’s of Alabama. She spent two months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) while her parents stayed nearby at the Ronald McDonald House. Haley returned to Children’s for 15 surgeries during the next 15 years—her last was in 2014—including two open-heart surgeries, spinal surgery and gastrointestinal surgery. Her surgeries were scheduled during the summer to minimize the impact on her school calendar. Haley says she loved school. Her favorite subject was science. She also stayed busy as a dancer—starting with ballet, then competitive dancing through high school and ultimately landing a spot on her high school dance team.
When it came time for college and planning her career, the choice was easy. Haley enrolled in the Troy University School of Nursing and went on to graduate in December 2022. “I always had my sights set on nursing,” she said. “Thinking back on all the times when I was a patient (at Children’s), my family was shown so much compassion by nurses. I knew I wanted to do that for someone else.”
Two Children’s nurses had profound effects on Haley’s path—NICU nurse practitioner Janet Skinner, CRNP; and advanced nurse clinician Tracey England, BSN, RN, CPN. Skinner was working in the NICU when Haley arrived in 1999. England helped care for Haley during several of her childhood surgeries.
Haley met up with Skinner when she visited Children’s for a weekend in the spring of 2022 as part of the Troy nursing program. She described it as the ultimate pediatric training experience. “Children’s of Alabama is one of the best places to learn,” she said. She had the opportunity to observe and work with nurses in the NICU and the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU). Now, she’s a NICU nurse herself, working with Skinner. She started at Children’s in March 2023. “It’s definitely a full circle moment to call myself a NICU nurse,” Haley said. “The connections and memories I make with my patients and their families are ones that I’ll carry with me and cherish forever. It’s one of the greatest honors of my life to care for the tiniest but mightiest patients at Children’s of Alabama.”
Skinner says the Millhouse family has been an inspiration. “Working in the NICU through these past 27 years, I can say Haley is exceptional. I am so proud of Haley and her parents. The first years of her life were not easy, yet watching them as they conquered each stage has always encouraged me.”
England, who cared for Haley has she grew older, describes Haley as very bright and ever so trusting. “Whenever any changes to her care were being discussed or anticipated, I could just sit down with her, explain what was going to happen and why, what she needed to do, and her response was always, ‘I will, Ms. Tracey.’ Her parents are exceptional and were inspiring and an absolute joy to work with. I feel very blessed and honored to have been entrusted in the care of Haley throughout her life. And I am so very, very proud of her for her perseverance and determination to become a nurse. I feel she will do great things in nursing and will go very far.”
As a nurse now, Haley says she has an even greater appreciation for what nurses have done for her. And she hopes to draw from her personal story to show families that there is hope in the future, knowing much more life lies ahead for them. “I always wondered why I had to be the child that had to be in the hospital constantly, why I was different. But my time in nursing school and experience at Children’s has given me the answer. My calling is to help kids like me—to prove that you can make something out of the life you’re given, that years later, you can have a full circle moment like me, walking down the halls of Children’s, not as a patient, but as person who wants to help and heal kids and their families. It’s a blessing, and I’m so incredibly proud to call myself a Child of Children’s.”