Advancing children’s quality of life with SMA

Cory Sieburg

APP Spotlight: Cory Sieburg, Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Neurology; University Hospital; American Family Children’s Hospital

Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in Wisconsin just outside of Madison and lived there with my parents and older brother. My mother was a nurse who cared for geriatric patients, and I knew early on that I wanted to be a nurse, too. I always loved working with children and aspired to a future in pediatrics. I spent time working with children who have special needs and nannied in college. My husband, Jack—who was my high school sweetheart—and I have two kids, Everett, 5, and Adeline, 3, and a dog named Selke. We enjoy staying busy on the weekends and are a huge hockey family.

Where did you go to school?

I attended Edgewood College in Madison for my undergraduate degree in nursing, completing my clinicals at UW Health. After graduating, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, with my best friend for my first job in a pediatric intensive care unit. We lived there for a few years, joined by my now husband, Jack. We later moved to Chicago for his job and I worked in the emergency department and post anesthesia care unit at Lurie Children’s Hospital (formerly Children’s Memorial). During my years in caring for patients, I saw a lot of my colleagues going back to school and soon had the same desire. I attended an accelerated Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program at Vanderbilt University, with monthly travel for classes and completion of my clinical hours in Chicago. It was a crazy time in my life, but I was so thrilled to have the experience.

How did you come to UW Health?

After I completed my nurse practitioner program, I was open to any specialty but wanted to find a team and organization that supported the success and growth of nurse practitioners. When I met with the wonderful providers that make up the pediatric neurology team at UW Health, I knew I wanted to work with them. I joined the team early in 2016 and have been here ever since.

What inspires you about your profession?

My patients are always my inspiration. I find kids to be the most resilient and accepting of challenges, and they love the joy they find in all they do. I’m a big kid at heart, so to be playful and have fun with the kids is the best part of my job.

Tell us about your work with spinal muscular atrophy.

I found an opportunity to utilize my expertise in research to provide life-changing treatments. Though I have done many things within pediatric neurology, my job transitioned at UW Health to a focus of neuromuscular diseases. A large area of my focus has been to manage and coordinate the treatment programs for children with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). In short, this is a genetic mutation that results in a deficiency of a protein that is critical to the function of nerves that control our muscles. Children with SMA do not produce enough protein, which impacts the nerve cells and results in muscle weakness. In the most severe form left untreated, SMA can be fatal. When I joined the neurology team, there was no treatment for this disease. A large team managed patients’ respiration, nutrition, rehabilitation needs and many other aspect of their care. Since then, there have been many advancements and clinical trials, some of which we have had the privilege of offering to our patients, and now these patients have better outcomes.

Do you have a memorable experience in your career that has stayed with you?

I have two. The first one still makes me tearful to this day. I was caring for a young woman who had recently gotten married, but had a very life-limiting diagnosis of severe pulmonary hypertension. The movie “Wall-E” had just come out, but due to being sick, she missed seeing it in the theater. She wanted a movie date with her husband. I bought the movie for them and brought it to her room, along with popcorn, candy and other movie snacks. It was a small gesture, but they were so happy. That moment carried them through the harder weeks to come. Unfortunately, she died shortly after. Later, her husband came to the unit and brought the movie back to me with a card thanking me for my kindness.

The other memorable experience was a family who had gotten a neuromuscular diagnosis for their first child while pregnant with their second. There was a possibility the new baby would have the same diagnosis. We performed testing early and waited for results. It was a Friday. I was picking up dinner for my family when I received the call that the result was positive. I stopped on my drive home to personally call the family and share the news, not wanting them to wait one minute more to know. It was one of the hardest calls I had to make, not just as a provider, but as a mom. I shared the result with the mother and we just cried. I reminded myself what I would need as that parent, and worked to provide it. We successfully treated this infant and she is doing very well. 

In a few words, how would you describe your coworkers and team at UW Health?

Everyone on our team is exceptional and irreplaceable. We celebrate big and small victories. We have fun, even when things are stressful. Dr. Jennifer Kwon always encourages me to push myself and further hone my skills. She is supportive and acknowledges my value in the success of our programs and our patients’ care. I am so grateful to her.

Outside of work, what did you accomplish this year that makes you proud?

I celebrate the happiness and growth of our family.  My husband is supportive of the work I do, often dropping his work when I have urgent issues to attend to. Our kids bring us so much joy and I am proud of the little people they are becoming. I am so happy to have both a family and a career.