Celebration in Times Square

NICU transport nurse honored at 3rd Annual National First Responders Day
Helen DeVos Children's Hospital NICU nurse Erin Coalliar receives a medal of honor in Times Square, Photo courtesy of First Responders Children's Foundation

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit transport nurse, Erin Coalliar, thought she was going to Seattle to check out a new type of neonatal ambulance. At least that’s what her manager, Maggie Simons, at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital had told her.

As a mother of two toddlers, arranging for someone to provide childcare in her absence was the first order of business. The dutiful nurse, now a supervisor, did her part and made all the necessary arrangements. As the date of her trip to Seattle inched closer, Simons took Coalliar aside and told her the real news: Coalliar was selected by the First Responders Children’s Foundation to receive an award! The trip she had been told to prepare for by her boss was, in fact, a trip to New York City, where she would be honored in Times Square for her work in transporting countless neonatal medical patients to hospitals by air and by ground.

“My first thought was, ‘Why me?’” Coalliar said. “In my mind all nurses do amazing things.”

But not all nurses are Erin Coalliar. She began her career as a medical missionary in Guatemala. Then she landed her dream job in the NICU unit at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, where she has worked for the past 10 years, eight of them as a nurse who provides care to ailing infants during harrowing journeys from outlying hospitals to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital where they receive specialized care. Three years ago, she had a chance to experience what life was like on the receiving end of her neonatal unit when she gave birth to a daughter who arrived 11 weeks early.

“I joke and say she just wanted to see where mommy works,” Coalliar said.

Coalliar isn’t sure what Simons wrote in her letter of recommendation to the First Responders Children’s Foundation or why she, of all people, was selected.

“I do what I do because I love it,” Coalliar said. “I’m grateful to Maggie and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and really just flattered and honored.”

On Oct. 28, 2022, Coalliar received her medal of honor in Times Square as dozens of police officers, firefighters, nurses, EMTs and other first responders from across the country looked on.

Six other professionals were honored that day, each with his or her own,
unique life-saving story to tell; an LA County firefighter; a DEA Special Agent; a Kentucky EMT; a Task Force Commander for the World Trade Center rescue & recovery operation and emergency dispatcher; Andrea Holczman, from Grand Traverse County, who guided the roadside delivery of a baby.

The third annual ceremony was held, in part, as an effort to make October 28 an official day of recognition, “National First Responders Day.”


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