“The gifts of Irwin and Joan Jacobs touched my life.”


Aaron and Jenny Sathrum with their family.

It was March 2021 when my wife went into early labor with our third child. Our son, Niels Daniel, was born at only 26 weeks.

We had already been in the hospital for several months, starting in January 2021, due to early pregnancy complications. This wasn’t our first stay at the Jacobs Medical Center at UC San Diego Health. Our first child was born shortly after the hospital grand opening in 2016. We were also patients in the NICU with our second child due to minor respiratory issues. But this time was different. The whole world was locked down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. My wife and I spent those weeks together in our hospital room—overlooking the nearby UCSD campus—and prayed for the healthy continuation of the pregnancy.

When Niels was born, he was only 2.2 pounds, just less than a kilogram. Yet he proved to be stronger than anyone imagined. Due to his premature birth, Niels had severe respiratory complications involving chest tubes and a high-frequency respirator. He also suffered from collapsed lungs, an intestinal perforation, a brain hemorrhage, jaundice, and a blood infection. My wife was unable to hold him for several weeks due to the many wires, tubes and medical devices used to keep him stable. The first time she held Niels was on Easter Sunday and also my birthday—a gift for us all from God. The challenges ahead were great, but with a treatment plan in place, we planned for an extended stay at the hospital. But with the help of the Jacobs Medical team, and the resilience of our son, we were released earlier than expected. Niels left the hospital after 114 days… a month after his original due date.

The incredible care my family received at the Jacobs Medical Center was not the first time I had benefited from the generosity of Irwin and Joan Jacobs.

After graduating with a dual degree in electrical engineering and materials science and engineering from UC Davis in 2002, I was hired as a civilian with the U.S. Navy at China Lake, Calif. as a materials failure analysis engineer. Because of my appetite for research, colleagues suggested I go back to school for my PhD. In 2005, I applied to only one school: UC San Diego. It was a natural choice—my wife’s family is from San Diego and I knew we would need the extra support while I was back in graduate school. Not only was I accepted into UCSD, but I was also awarded a Jacobs Fellowship. My family and I are here in San Diego because of the generosity of the Jacobs family. I don’t think they could ever imagine how much they’ve touched my life. They have helped further my education, my livelihood, and most importantly, provided a safe and state-of-the-art facility for the birth of my children.

My son Niels is now 14 months and every day I look at him—I’m grateful. Although we spent over half of the year in the hospital unsure of what was to come next, there is no better feeling than knowing our family is together, at last.


Aaron Sathrum, MS ’06, PhD ’11 is a senior materials engineer at General Atomics.