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Facilities, equipment help 'preemie' babies

January 7, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
About 12 percent of babies in the U.S. are born prematurely. Babies born as early as 24 weeks, who weigh less than 1 or 2 pounds, are at very high risk of death during their first few days.One local hospital has dedicated an entire unit just to this fragile population of patients.

All the patients in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Children's Hospital of Orange County arrived way too early.

"He was born at 25 weeks, but my water had broke at 21 weeks," said Rebecca Odami, mother of a "preemie."

Rebecca and Daniel's son Jude weighs in at about 1.8 pounds. The couple has been practically living at the NICU for a month. Baby Jude should still be in the womb, so that's the environment the hospital is trying to create: warm, nurturing and quiet.

"That's because stimulation from sound or excessive light can have detrimental effects to these babies," said Dr. Antoine Soliman, Children's Hospital of Orange County.

Soliman, the director of the extremely low birth weight program, says 30 years ago, none of the babies would have survived. Today, thanks to specialized equipment and therapies, even the smallest preemies can thrive.

"These 1- to 2-pound micro-preemies are a unique population that needs a special kind of care," said Soliman. "More and more of these babies are surviving and now we are in the tough challenge of improving their medical outcomes."

The unit cares for up to a 100 extreme low-birth-weight babies a year.

Security is tight. But for parents stressed out and overwhelmed with the delicate nature of their babies' conditions, the NICU is a haven.

"It's good to know that there's other people around that are going through the same thing as we are," said Rebecca.

Parents are encouraged to feel like they're at home. The staff finds the best formula for growing strong babies is round-the-clock medical support and a whole lot of love.

"You come in and have your quiet time with your baby. It's just really nice," said Rebecca.

Doctors say every aspect of the babies' care in the unit has been adjusted to meet their needs, from the way they are handled and positioned to the way their diapers are changed.