When she was laid off in 1998, Pratico was pregnant with her second child, and decided to take some time to be home with her family.
Once her daughter, Sara, was also born with Trisomy 21, Pratico started to become even more involved in her community and in organizations that support those with conditions like her children. Pratico was used to being around people with developmental disabilities even before her children were born. Her aunt, now 66, was born with autism, and Pratico recently became her legal guardian.
“I’ve been surrounded by others with developmental challenges my entire life,” Pratico said. “It’s only natural for me to get involved as an advocate for this community of people.”
In 2001, Pratico took on the role of director of public relations for Arc/Mercer Inc., an organization that her grandparents founded, whose mission is prevention, education and advocacy for those with developmental disabilities.
After a layoff due to budget cuts, Pratico took a job at Advanced Biomedical Research, Inc., where she worked for five years, first as the data management associate and then as the business development associate. She was also spending a lot of time at CHOP with her children, which did not go unnoticed by hospital staff.
“When I had my children and spent more time at the hospital than at home, I became immersed in healthcare, and was approached by the hospital administration to become a more formal part of the organization,” said Pratico, who became a volunteer family advisor at CHOP in 2003. In this position she was able to find ways to advance patient and family-centered care, a goal the hospital had set for itself ten years earlier.
In 2007, Pratico was asked to become a family leader at CHOP, so she could use her own experiences with the healthcare system to teach medical students, physicians, nurses, support staff, administrators and new employees about how healthcare professionals can fulfill the mission, values and philosophy of the hospital.
“My children are still alive because of CHOP. If there was any way I could give back, I wanted to do it,” said Pratico, noting that her passion is to make sure there is a better system in place to enhance patient care. “Hopefully by the time my kids are older that shift will happen in all healthcare facilities.”
As Pratico’s children grew, so did her role as an advocate for those with similar challenges. In 2009, she was asked to become the Healthy Athletes program manager for Special Olympics New Jersey, a program in which her children regularly participate.
“They’re powerful little people,” Pratico said of her kids. “I always said when my son John was born that if he could touch the life of someone else he’d fulfill his purpose. Both of my kids have touched thousands of lives.” Pratico added that her daughter is very outgoing and captivating, and believes she too may someday become an advocate for others.
In 2010 Pratico was offered a one-year fellowship at CHOP, where she received advanced training in family-centered care, community partnerships, and leadership development. Among the places she has taught are the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
Since 2011, Pratico has been the program coordinator for the Trisomy 21 Program at CHOP. She now provides specialized support and care coordination for patients with Down syndrome.
Practico returned to MCCC in February as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series to speak about her work. “I feel like I’ve come full circle,” Pratico said. “Mercer was a great opportunity to get a great education and network locally. It meant a lot to me to come back to speak to students about my work.”
In the coming months she plans to return to college to earn her bachelor’s degree through the William Paterson University program at Mercer.
Pratico is also giving back to her community as a volunteer. She serves on the Board of Education for Hamilton Township School District, was a founding member of the Mayor’s Commission for Special Needs in Hamilton Township, and served on the Board of Directors for Arc/Mercer, Inc. In 2008, she was named Young Professional of the Year by the Robert Wood Johnson University Foundation-Hamilton.
Reflecting on her career thus far, Pratico believes her children came into her life for a reason: so she could find her calling to help advocate for others like her who need a support system in the healthcare industry.
“I know I’m the person I am today because of my children.”