“All I’ve ever wanted to be was a nurse. I even told my kindergarten class I was going to be a baby nurse,” Cherie Walker says.
After decades of different nursing roles, Walker's dream came true. She now cares for very little and very sick babies in the neonatal intensive care unit at UnityPoint Health – Quad Cities.
“When you’re a nurse, you know every day when you go in that you may touch a life, or that life may touch yours in a way you didn’t expect and imprint on your heart. It’s like a pebble that gets into the water and has a ripple effect,” Walker says.
But Walker doesn’t just have a love for caring for small babies – she also has a passion for art. So, it isn’t surprising she’s found a way to combine the two.
“I call it footprint art from the heart. It’s a way I can preserve some memories,” Walker says.
The nurse-turned-artist puts little footprints, and even some handprints, on a canvas and then adds details to match each baby’s personality.
“I’ve done all sorts of things from cartoon characters, to butterflies, llamas and rainbows. I think of each baby individually, and sometimes I’ll coordinate with the nursery theme,” Walker says.
Emily Sheppard’s son received one of Walker's paintings. Sheppard gave birth to her son, Ryan, at 35 weeks. Walker was there when Emily went into labor.
“He’s my first baby. I’ve always envisioned my mom in the delivery room, but she couldn’t come due to the pandemic. Cherie had that personality, that attitude – it made not having my mom with me more bearable. It was like having a mother figure holding your hand and getting you through,” Sheppard says.
Since Ryan came early, he was in the NICU for a short stay.
“Cherie gave her full attention to my son. She answered all my questions, gave him his first bath, gave him bottles and helped me breastfeed. The amount of care and devotion she showed made it much easier on me – taking off a lot of the stress we were feeling,” Sheppard says.
Walker did a painting off a sitting bear to go along with Ryan’s woodland nursery theme.
“When I see the painting on Ryan’s wall, I think of not only how blessed we are to have such a happy, healthy baby, but of Cherie and the entire NICU staff who made our time in the hospital safe and loving. The painting reminds me what a blessing our little “bear” is and how grateful we were to have had such caring people a part of Ryan’s first couple days of life,” Sheppard says.
Walker says she’s done the paintings for years, but she really started doing more when she took a full-time gig in the NICU in 2017. She tries to complete a canvas for each of her small patients and even mails them to parents who’ve left before she can complete her art. The money for the canvases and supplies comes from her own pocket. If you ask her how many paintings she’s completed – it’s an impressive number.
“No idea. I did three of them yesterday. It’s just whenever I have the time and when I can get the little prints on the canvas. If I had to guess how many I’ve done – it’s somewhere in the hundreds, not thousands,” Walker says.
However, with the drive Walker has for caring for babies and personalizing each encounter she has with their family – she might just get to the thousands mark during her career.
“I love to surprise parents. I also know how important little footprint memories are to families. I have eight amazing grandchildren – but I lost my oldest grandson, Calvin, last summer at the age of nine. You never know when God calls us home. I have all the prints I made of his little feet and little hands, which I’ll always treasure. I know we all go through different trials and tribulations on our life path. It’s just made me love more and care deeper, because life is so fragile. Each baby is a miracle, and I want to bless every patient or family I touch in a positive way,” Walker says.