Marian Regional Medical Center Employee Creates Paintings for Patients, Families in NICU

Baby Armando, who was in the NICU at Marian Regional Medical Center for 79 days, is seen with the painting of a duck that was created by respiratory therapist Nickie Brayton, who presented the painting to Armando's family, including mother Jazmin Narez. (Courtesy)

As a respiratory therapist at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Marian Regional Medical Center, Nickie Brayton knows all too well how mothers and fathers who see their newborns in her unit feel.

Their babies are typically hooked up to various monitors, with different hoses and tubes. Sometimes, mothers and fathers aren’t able to hold their newborn while they’re being cared for in the NICU.

Knowing how fearful a time that can be for parents, Brayton has been inspired to bring comfort to families in the NICU at Marian. She creates personalized watercolor paintings that are given to families around the time they are ready to “graduate” from the NICU.

As a respiratory therapist, Brayton typically provides care for newborns in the NICU for months, a journey that forges a unique bond.

“You get to know these kids really well – some of them you’ve resuscitated,” Brayton says. “They were gone and you brought them back. You bond with the family – and the baby.”

Marian’s 21-bed, Community (Level III) Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is the most sophisticated and technologically-advanced unit in the region, providing exceptional care to the tiniest of patients.

“Beyond her exceptional professional skills, our trust and respect for her expertise as a NICU respiratory therapist, Nickie personifies our Marian values,” says the Director of the NICU and Pediatrics at Marian Regional Medical Center, Chris Jakowchik. “While we see our values in all of our staff, she regularly goes above and beyond. Nickie takes her personal time away from work and creates from her own resources – these works of art. They are imbued with such meaning and intention, connecting this difficult but special time in the NICU to a work of art that the parents will treasure forever.”

Brayton painted a baby duck for Jazmin Narez, whose nickname is “Ducky”, and her son Armando, who was delivered at about 24 weeks – or 16 weeks premature. Armando was in the NICU at Marian for 79 days.

Narez says her family is thankful for not only the world-class care Armando received at Marian, but the bonds the family made with the NICU’s staff.

“He’s just doing amazing and I know that the initial care he had there at Marian has had a lot to do with it,” Narez said. “It made it a lot easier that we didn’t have to transfer anywhere – our whole stay was here in Santa Maria.”

Brayton says hopes the paintings provide a “light at the end of the tunnel” for families during their stay in the NICU.

“I can’t imagine what the families are going through here in the NICU and the major reward, obviously, is that they get to take their child home,” Brayton said. “But it’s fun to give them something to let them know that we are rooting for them and we’re here for them 24/7 — if they need anything they can call us. It gives them a sense of reassurance and something to come home with.”

Nickie Brayton, a respiratory therapist who works in the NICU at Marian Regional Medical Center, poses with the artwork she creates for patients and their families.(Courtesy)
Nickie Brayton, a respiratory therapist who works in the NICU at Marian Regional Medical Center, poses with the artwork she creates for patients and their families. (Courtesy)

About Marian Regional Medical Center – Dignity Health Marian Regional Medical Center is a state-of-the-art, 191-bed medical center located in Santa Maria, California. The modern facility is home to a broad array of services including a level II trauma center, a level III neonatal intensive care unit, a nationally recognized cardiac care center, and boasts the Central Coast’s only Comprehensive Community Cancer Program as recognized by the Commission on Cancer. Marian has also been recognized with an “A” grade in  quality and patient safety by the Leapfrog Group. Marian Regional Medical Center together with Arroyo Grande Community Hospital, French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, and  Pacific Central Coast Health Centers, comprise Dignity Health Central Coast, a network of hospitals, physicians, outpatient services including physician offices, ambulatory surgery centers, technologically-advanced laboratories and imaging centers, and a full service home health agency. Learn more at


Written by DignityHealth

Dignity Health is a California-based not-for-profit public-benefit corporation that operated hospitals and ancillary care facilities in three states.

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