Patti Doyle, who retired April 14 as a nurse in Community Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, doesn't know the precise number of the thousands of babies she's cared for in her last 40 years.
But she does know she "never quit loving what I did.''
Doyle was a senior member of Community's neonatal transport team, traveling in Montana and Idaho by helicopter, airplane, or ground ambulance to bring infants to CMC for specialized intensive care.
She was also a neonatal intensive care unit charge nurse and worked 33 years in a follow-up clinic monitoring development of the NICU's high-risk graduates until they turned 3. In the 1980s, she organized Community's first NICU reunion, and continued to do so every five years.
In the NICU, where she took a position in 1979, "I found my niche.''
"I loved the challenge of taking care of the tiniest most fragile patients. A lot of critical thinking is required. You obviously can't ask the patient what's going on. When infants get sick, they get sick fast. You have to learn to read what's going on."
Doyle got her nursing degree in 1973 from Montana State University-Northern in Havre, where she grew up. Later that year, she started at CMC, making $2.75 an hour, which included the night differential.
But she said the families she worked with taught her more than she ever learned in school. "Every time you see that parent standing at the side of the isolette with a look of sheer terror in their eyes … it teaches you empathy, it teaches you how to listen, it teaches you how to be their advocate."
Both of Doyle's daughters followed her into medicine; Carlyn is a pediatric nurse practitioner at Community, and the Haley is a family and women's health nurse practitioner in Spokane.
Amelia Alford, who nominated Doyle, said she not only took great care of the baby she unexpectedly delivered early, she helped prepare her to take her baby home.
And that is the highest praise possible for Doyle.
"At the end of the day, I had to know I'd done the very best I could do … not just to take care of the infants, but to make sure the parents walked out the door with that precious little life; that they could take care of him or her better than any of us."