Ambassador Highlight: Ellie

In the early chapters of Ellie Zimmerman’s medical journey, one prevailing theme emerged: against all odds. Her narrative didn’t begin with her birth, however; it took root even before her entrance to the world.

Jennifer Zimmerman, Ellie’s mother, found herself unexpectedly relying on the services of UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, a familiar place through her work as an employee, in July 2021. She never could have imagined the pivotal role it would play in Ellie’s story of resilience.

“No one ever expects to have a micro-preemie,” Zimmerman said. “It’s not part of any birth plan or what anyone dreams of when you find out you are pregnant.”

Due to a placental abruption, a condition in which the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery, Ellie entered the world as a ‘micro-preemie,’ weighing just over 1 pound, 3 ounces when she was born. Because of her early entry, Ellie developed bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a condition that affects the airways of the lungs. She also has a feeding aversion due to being intubated for a prolonged period of time.

Despite the challenges, Ellie and her mother continue to find joy in every victory they share.

Zimmerman explained, “There have been two great days since the day we started our journey at UF:  The day we brought Ellie home, and watching Ellie eat purées for the first time, something we were unsure would ever happen.”

Within the walls of UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, Ellie’s story fostered friendships and unbreakable bonds with the teams that cared for her.  

Kelli Stewart [a registered nurse in the NICU] shared my joy in being able to dress Ellie for the first time,” Zimmerman said. “She was excited to see her outfits and sent me pictures of her in her cute clothes. Dr. Roig was the first person I saw after Ellie was born, and he told me to trust in Ellie. Dr. Baines, who saw Ellie in the clinic, continued to want to know how she progressed, even after discharge from the clinic.”

“The entire NICU staff honestly acted as our biggest cheerleaders and I can’t say enough.”

Even in the face of adversity, Ellie and her family embrace the silver linings of each day, maintaining a positive perspective against all odds.  

“There was a time in the not so distant past when Ellie may not have survived because the level of treatment we received was thought impossible. Because of UF, I have a happy, healthy and vibrant 2-year-old little girl.”