Forty years ago this week, Sonia Brown walked into Lompoc Hospital, figuring she might become a volunteer or maybe even try to get hired. The native of Jamaica had completed her nursing training in London, England, and moved to the U.S. with her husband, Billie, a service member.
When they moved to Lompoc, she went to the hospital to see how it operated and to see if the nursing directors would consider her as an employee. She walked out that day – Feb. 13, 1978 – with a job.
This week is her 40th anniversary in LVMC’s Perinatal Services Department on the night shift. She has helped deliver thousands of babies. “People wondered, ‘Why did I stay this long? Why did I stay in nursing all this time,’” Sonia says. “My family wondered. It’s really hard to give up the miracle. When you work with people who are so close to you, it’s hard to say it’s time to go. I kept saying, ‘Maybe just a little bit longer.’”
A surprise party was thrown in her honor Tuesday night when she showed up to work and was attended by numerous physicians, administrators, and nurses.
She said she never wanted to work in any other hospital department. “It has been a journey of love,” the mother of two and grandmother of four said. “I’ve enjoyed just about every minute of it. There have been scary times, but that kind of keeps you going.”
CEO Jim Raggio joined the celebration and congratulated Sonia for all her work. “Sonia is the foundation of our Obstetrics Department with her superb clinical skills and confident demeanor,” Mr. Raggio said. “She is a wealth of knowledge and has an amazing ability to teach those working with her. She is an absolute treasure to Lompoc Valley Medical Center and our community.”
Perinatal Services Department Director Melinda DeHoyos thanked Sonia for all she has done for the department and its staff.
“When I started here on the night shift, you were the wise owl who always helped me stay calm when I was a scared new nurse,” Melinda said. “You are a very special part of the department and you always will be. Thank you so much for all you have done for the thousands of babies you helped bring into the world.”
The celebration included balloons, cake, and photographs with colleagues.
“You have been a wonderful inspiration for all of the people who work here,” said longtime OBGYN physician Dr. W. Blake Jamison.
Sonia was grateful for the words about her career.
“Thank you for all the years,” she said. “Thank you to the Board of Directors for allowing me to do something I’ve enjoyed so much.”
After the party, Sonia said that she knew when she was a teenager that she wanted to be a nurse. She knew a woman in Jamaica who was a nurse, and she enjoyed spending time with the older worm.
“From there on, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” she recalled.
But because Jamaica only had one university, the waiting list to study nursing was too long. Her mother was already in England working as a hospital orderly, so Sonia joined her and earned her nursing credentials in London. She met her husband, Billie, while he was serving in the military in England. They eventually moved to Lompoc in 1977, after military assignments on the East Coast. They have been married 45 years.
Labor and Delivery is her calling, she said, because she realized most people “are always going in the opposite direction to a pregnant woman. I have the knowledge so I might as well use it. I feel I was placed here for a reason.”
She said she wishes now she had kept track of the babies she helped deliver.
“There is absolutely nowhere I can go in this town that I don’t run into someone I’ve delivered or taken care of,” she said.
She said she has never minded working night shifts.
“People say miracles don’t happen in the way they did in the bible years and years ago,” she says. “But each time I see a baby born, that still gives me something in here (she places her hand on her heart), that just sets my heart racing. And seeing a new life into the world, knowing how it started, and here it is, an actual person.”
Sonia says she always thought she might retire when she was 55 years old because that seemed to be a popular time to stop working.
“But when I got to 55, I thought, ‘Wait a minute. I’ve still got health and I still enjoy what I do. I might as well just keep on and see how far I can go.’ I didn’t think I’d make 40. I really didn’t. People put too much emphasis on age, versus how they feel and knowing what they do is something they want to do.”