Preemie Promise

What You Need to Know About Eating Gluten Free
January 6, 2013
Flying High at Easterwood Airport
January 6, 2013

Pregnant with twins, Loreen Shay walked into her Monday morning doctor’s appointment expecting to hear that all was well even after experiencing some minor pain over the weekend. Instead, she learned she was going into labor. Only 28 weeks into her pregnancy, Loreen rushed to the hospital to be checked in immediately. On the way, she called her husband Ronnie to tell him their two sons might be delivered while he was too many miles away on business to come home.
by Amber Cassady

NICU Incubator and MonitorAs challenging as that day was, the Shays’ early delivery of Wesley and Westyn, now healthy and thriving four-month-olds, would have been even more traumatic just a few short years ago. Prior to 2005 when the College Station Medical Center (The Med) added a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), extremely premature babies like the Shays’ had to be transported by helicopter to hospitals in Houston, Austin or Tyler while the anxious parents followed behind in a vehicle missing the first moments with their child.

Pregnant with twins, Loreen Shay walked into her Monday morning doctor’s appointment expecting to hear that all was well even after experiencing some minor pain over the weekend. Instead, she learned she was going into labor. Only 28 weeks into her pregnancy, Loreen rushed to the hospital to be checked in immediately. On the way, she called her husband Ronnie to tell him their two sons might be delivered while he was too many miles away on business to come home.
by Amber Cassady

NICU Incubator and MonitorAs challenging as that day was, the Shays’ early delivery of Wesley and Westyn, now healthy and thriving four-month-olds, would have been even more traumatic just a few short years ago. Prior to 2005 when the College Station Medical Center (The Med) added a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), extremely premature babies like the Shays’ had to be transported by helicopter to hospitals in Houston, Austin or Tyler while the anxious parents followed behind in a vehicle missing the first moments with their child.

Instead, the Shay’s life-altering experience brought them to The Med with its new private NICU rooms where the parents were allowed to stay with their boys as nurses and staff cared for the twins during the first one and a half months of their tiny lives.

It’s a positive change that offers healing for the entire family. “It disrupts the family dynamic going to different cities,” says Craig Steiner, M.D., neonatologist and director of NICU and Neonatal Nurse Practitioners. “It is crucial to be in your own community where the support of your church, friends or business is.”

Because of The Med’s expanded NICU, preemies are only transported out of town if they are severely ill and in need of a special surgery or treatment that is not offered, a situation that is quite rare according to OB-GYN Justin Gayle, M.D.

Gayle began working at The Med in 1999 prior to the NICU’s construction. “Before, any babies that were coming before the 35 week mark would be delivered and then transported while the mother stayed in the hospital to recover, ultimately separating the family,” recalls Dr. Gayle.

Since the original NICU was built eight years ago, it has been expanded twice to adapt to the growing community and the strong presence of young families. The initial NICU represented a $32 million investment. Another $23 million investment in 2011 added 10 labor and delivery rooms; four anti-partum rooms for mothers needing prolonged attention, and two new newborn nurseries.

The expansion doubled the delivery room capacity: 200 babies are now born monthly compared to the 120 per month previously.

“I believe in these investments because this is a special place to live and for the delivery of great health care,” says The Med CEO Tom Jackson. “We want to make investments in these types of communities.”

Four million dollars of the most recent expansion project went specifically to provide private pods in the NICU. “With the pods, mothers can feed their baby in a private setting,” says Dr. Gayle. “There is better infection control as well. A private pod basically functions as its own individual NICU.”

This is a significant venture that people, including Jackson, say is paying off with positive outcomes for the community’s quality of health care. “Private pods are rare even in larger communities,” says Jackson. “It is quite the investment that is exceptional for a community of this size. There is not another private NICU in the region.”

Dr. Gayle says he remembers when the NICU was overfilled with essentially five beds that the community had outgrown. Now, the NICU has triple the capacity to take care of 10 to 15 babies at one time. Dr. Steiner describes it as a good spot to be and with still enough room to accommodate the community as it continues growing over the next five to 10 years.

Previously, preemies and their families were cared for in a group room where the only thing dividing them from strangers and their crying babies was drapes spread out like accordions. Now a peaceful alternative exists in the secluded pods where a mother can nurse her newborn in privacy. Families have the luxury of a space devoted just to them.

OB-GYN Michele Garant, D.O., has delivered babies at The Med for eight years, long enough to know the difference adding the NICU and now the private pods has made. Her feelings about it are personal.

“I was pregnant myself when the NICU opened,” Dr. Garant says. “It was such a relief and reassuring to know if something went wrong that my baby could be kept in town.”

Dr. Garant shares her comfort in this care being locally available with her patients. “It’s a big-city level of care with a small-town feel,” she says. “Patients have the benefit of a doctor that they know well. It’s a smaller community hospital and the nurses are more invested. It is a family like atmosphere. I am able to let parents know ahead of time that the nurses they will have are ones that I know well and they are great at what they do.”

It is not uncommon for a premature baby to stay in the hospital for two to three months, according to Dr. Gayle. This means that the extended stay and back and forth traveling to the NICU in another city can be extremely taxing on families – emotionally, socially and financially. It makes the local resources that much more valuable.

“It gives the opportunity for parents to go home and spend the night if they need to,” says Gayle. “Dad or mom can go back to work and the family is able to stay in the community. When you’re emotionally worried about a premature baby, this helps at least with the financial side. Also people can be where their friends and churches are for support.”

Loreen Shay says she appreciated the private NICU pods for her boys even more after a friend, whose son had complicatons after delivery requiring a brief stay in a NICU in a different town, visited Loreen in recovery. “She told me that she didn’t get a private room and said, ‘I wish [my son] could’ve had this in our NICU,’” Loreen recalls.