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Girl who started life in NICU pursues nursing career

Hospitals can be intimidating, but not for 18-year-old Abigail Rakos.

In the first year of her life, it was a second home for the Jim Thorpe native, who overcame long odds when she was born premature and underweight.

“You put your life on the line with these guys, how can you not trust them, you have to,” she said.

So it’s not a surprise that when it came time to decide what she would do after graduation from Marian Catholic High School, Rakos chose nursing.

Specifically, she chose St. Luke’s, the health system that she says made her the person she is today. They in turn chose Abigail to receive a full scholarship to the hospital’s nursing school.

“They’ve taken care of me since I was born, and that’s why I want to go to St. Luke’s,” she said.

Rakos loves to sing and perform, and writes in her spare time. Meeting her, you would never think that she had to fight for her life, or use a feeding tube until she was 4 years old.

“She was born at 1 pound, 5 ounces; 27 weeks, 2 days. She was very, very sick. At a week old, we almost lost her,” her mother, Debra, recalled.

She faced a struggle even before she was born. During her pregnancy, Debra was with another hospital, where they discovered issues with her pregnancy. That hospital said they couldn’t do anything heroic to save the baby.

But a doctor told her about the perinatologists at St. Luke’s — who admitted her and immediately began treating her.

She was born when they said she was safer outside the womb than inside, but she still faced a long battle. Her lungs were underdeveloped. She needed a ventilator and steroids.

“Once she came through, the neonatologist said, I really shouldn’t tell you this, but I don’t think there’s anything that’ll keep this kid from coming home to you. She’s a fighter,” Debra recalled.

Since then, that fighting spirit has helped Abigail overcome her medical issues, excel in the classroom, and live a full life outside of school.

For 10 years, she performed with Pennsylvania Youth Theater in Bethlehem. Writing was her passion, and she hoped to become a writer.

But then she discovered she wanted to be a nurse, and decided to focus on getting into nursing school.

“As I took more time studying at school, I put writing on the back burner, and I found that I am more passionate about nursing, and I feel it’s my calling,” she said.

She decided to apply for a partial scholarship from St. Luke’s. During the application process they learned about the story of her remarkable journey. St. Luke’s was impressed. They gave her a full scholarship.

“During a discussion between us and her Marian Catholic High School guidance counselor, the story about her life, and lifesaving connection to St. Luke’s, unfolded. I was very moved by Abby’s story and we wanted to do something to help her,” St. Luke’s Miners Campus President Bill Moyer said.

Abigail is currently attending LCCC, finishing prerequisites for the St. Luke’s program. She’ll spend the first two years after graduation working at Miners Campus, as per the scholarship. Eventually, she hopes to work in pediatrics or maternity, or return to the neonatal ICU that helped save her life.

“We have a long history of commitment to both education and the local community. Helping Abby on her path to becoming a nurse was a way for St. Luke’s to continue our tradition. She’s very caring, passionate, dedicated and can communicate well. Abby has all the qualities that will make her a great nurse,” Moyer said.