Marcy Autry, Northside Hospital Atlanta

‘I have always felt it in my heart to do for others. I find it important to help those in need,’ NICU nurse says

For 22 years, Marcy Autry has been caring for fragile babies in the neonatal intensive care unit at Northside Hospital Atlanta.

Working in critical care wasn’t precisely what Autry had in mind when, at age 6, she told her sister she wanted to be a nurse when she grew up. Autry wasn’t sure how she would handle needles and such; she just knew she wanted to help others.

“I have always felt it in my heart to do for others. I find it important to help those in need,” the veteran nurse of 31 years said. “For the babies who are ill, there’s nothing like being able to do everything possible to make their day as good as it can be, to walk away at the end of a shift knowing I did what I could to help them.”

That’s why Autry was presented with an AJC Nurse Excellence Award on Tuesday. About 800 nurses were nominated, with 10 being honored.

Autry, 54, didn’t start her career in the NICU, but was drawn to the challenge of nursing the hospital’s youngest critically ill patients. She enjoys connecting with families, earning their trust, and advocating for them and their babies.

“When you have that trusting relationship with the family, they can really lean on you, and you can help them get through one of the worst times of their lives,” she said.

Nurse manager Lauren Forkel observed how Autry cared for a newborn who had a severe brain injury and a grim prognosis.

It was unclear how long the infant would survive, and Autry cared for the family, as well, fielding heart-wrenching questions about their deep fears of the unknown for their child. Despite the difficulty, Forkel said Autry would request to care for that patient week after week.

“I don’t know many people in this world with the heart of steel Marcy held for this family,” Forkel wrote, who nominated Autry for the award. “I know the difference she made for them. I know that how she cared for the baby and the words of wisdom she provided them changed how they loved their child — even if the time spent with her was brief.”

Autry said nursing is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding in general, but it can be more so in critical care. The Northside NICU nurses are quick to help one another.

“I’m so blessed to have this job and do what I do there,” she said. “What I do is my local mission; I don’t want it any other way.”

Autry grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida, and now lives in Smyrna with her husband, Michael. Their daughter, Arden, is a freshman at Mississippi State University.

Read about the other winners