The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital has opened a small baby unit this summer where infants born at 28 weeks gestation or sooner and who weigh 1000 grams or less (2.2 pounds) receive specialized care.
The small baby unit is one of only nine in the United States and the only one caring for micro-preemies in Alabama and along the upper Gulf Coast. The closest small baby unit is located in Tennessee, said Cathy McCurley, a registered nurse who helped develop the unit for USA Health in Mobile. Separated from the rest of the NICU, the unit can accommodate up to 22 newborns.
Research shows babies born before 28 weeks gestation or weighing less than 1,000 grams have better health outcomes in a program where a specially trained team provides around the clock care.
The NICU at Children’s & Women’s Hospital has a long history of helping the smallest babies thrive. In a two-year period from 2016 to 2018, more than 96 percent of the babies born at 26 weeks gestation survived at the Mobile, Ala. hospital. The survival rate for babies born at 22 weeks during the same time period at Children’s & Women’s Hospital was just under 70 percent. Typically, 1,000 babies a year “graduate” from the neonatal intensive care unit.
“I never knew a place like this existed until I needed it,” said Camilla English, the mother of a baby born at 23 weeks gestation nearly 19 years ago who was cared for in the Children’s & Women’s NICU. Her son graduated from high school this May. “My husband went to visit the NICU while I was still in recovery all those years ago and I remember him telling me everything was going to be fine.”
English attended the small baby unit opening on June 12, clutching a large graduation photo of her son and showing some of his nurse’s photos taken with them. He enjoyed a normal childhood, she said, playing baseball from age four through twelfth grade and graduating cum laude from Baldwin County High School in May 2019. He was at work and couldn’t attend the event.
The small baby unit staff is comprised of a multidisciplinary team of highly-trained neonatologists, nurse practitioners, nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, lactation consultants and pharmacists who have undergone advanced education.
The NICU and now the small baby unit also offers an exceptional team of social workers and nurses trained as parent educators who help with everything from dealing with the challenges of having an infant in the NICU to home health needs and specialized follow-up care.
USA Health Children’s and Women’s Hospital