Meet Wonderland Board Member: Dr. Nina Natarajan

The peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich method is Dr. Nina Natarajan’s favorite motto. It makes a lot of sense–you take two pretty good things, you put them together, and then you get a really great thing! Nina calls it her method of life, relying on it whenever she had to make an important decision such as choosing a college major, becoming a pediatric neurologist, and even serving on Wonderland Child & Family Service’s board of directors.

Nina with her husband Raj, their daughter Jyoti, and Baxter

Nina didn’t always know she wanted to be a doctor. At school she was fascinated by science, particularly chemistry and biology, so using her peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich approach, she decided to major in biochemistry in college. But the prospect of spending her days in a quiet research lab didn’t quite fit her outgoing personality and her desire to work with people.

“I realized that I love talking, but the cells won’t talk back to me,” says Nina. A class in medical anthropology sparked her interest in medicine, particularly neuroscience. She relied on her trusted approach to life again, combining her growing interest in pediatrics and neuroscience. During her pediatric neurology residency, Nina realized neonatal neurology was her calling.

At Seattle Children’s Hospital, Dr. Natarajan spends the majority of her time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), caring for infants during their most fragile stage of life. Her specialty is diagnosing tiny babies who may experience seizures, low muscle tone, and other signs of brain trauma during birth.

“Being born is one of the hardest and most dangerous things we do as humans,” she says. Yet, Nina sees the most rewarding part of her job as her ability to make a difference for families during this challenging time at the NICU.

Her task is to walk parents through what is happening to their child, explain the diagnosis, and provide available options for treatment, often including early-intervention services.

“I strongly believe that if you realistically frame the diagnosis, you can set families up for success. We have solid evidence that by providing infants with effective early-intervention services, we can change the long-term outcome for their development.” This is where Wonderland comes in, providing Nina’s tiny clients with a range of therapies, combined with multiple supports for their families.

Today, Nina splits her work between the NICU at Seattle Children’s, Infant Development Follow-up Clinic at UW, and UW Medical Center NICU. Seeing the impact of early-intervention services on her clients as they make their way from NICU to preschool graduation and beyond made her really appreciate Wonderland’s work.

In 2017, she joined Wonderland’s board of directors to become more involved in early intervention and to bring change outside of her day-to-day job. Being on the board reminds her that life goes on outside of the walls of the hospital, once the babies leave.

Nina laughs when mentioning her peanut-butter-and-jelly-method again. “At work, I am able to help one child at a time, but here I am able to focus on the whole community of families. This allows me to create an even bigger impact.” She wants to make sure that Wonderland’s life-changing services reach as many families in need as possible. Becoming a mother to a baby girl in 2018 also added a new meaning to her work and volunteer commitments. “It’s an exciting time to be part of Wonderland as it is going through a period of tremendous growth. My hope is that it keeps supporting children and families through the most important years of life.”