Caring For The Smallest Patients


When she would check in at the front desk to visit her prematurely born twin girls in the new CHOC neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at St. Joseph Hospital, Mary Aguilar typically would be greeted with expressions of concern from hospital employees.

Aguilar would respond, “Actually, it’s cool up there.  I never feel like I’m going to a sad place.”

“Up there” is the 13-bed, CHOC staffed-and-licensed Level IIB neonatal intensive care unit that, since opening Feb. 11, 2013, has been making life a lot easier for mothers, families and their newborns at CHOC’s adult hospital neighbor—and their newborns who need specialized care.

Aguilar’s girls, Lily and Ella, born just shy of 32 weeks, were among the first patients and the first set of twins to be cared for in the CHOC NICU at St. Joseph Hospital, whose opening coincided with a new mother-baby unit at St. Joseph.

Never far from mom

The NICU, staffed by a team of CHOC neonatal experts, is designed for newborns with low to moderate medical needs—typically, premature babies suffering from respiratory and circulatory problems. Newborns needing a higher level of critical care are sent to CHOC’s 54-bed NICU, located in the CHOC North patient care tower.

Lacy Pester, BSN, RNC-NIC and clinical manager of the CHOC NICU at St. Joseph Hospital said that prior to the opening of the new NICU, it sometimes was inconvenient for mothers to have to make the trip to CHOC’s NICU.  At nights, if there were no volunteers available to accompany them, mothers were not allowed to make the trek, Pester said. No longer.

Now new mothers like Aguilar are only steps away and can visit their babies easily.

The NICU provides accommodations for parents after a mother’s discharge as well.

For 27 days, Lily and Ella—who both weighed around 3½ pounds at birth—were cared for by a team of newborn intensive care nurses, respiratory therapists and physicians who relied on sophisticated monitoring equipment to closely follow their vital functions around the clock, including heartbeat, respiratory status, temperature and blood pressure.The girls got the Twin Room—the only two-bed room among the 12 rooms that make up the new NICU.

Choosing to have her babies at St. Joseph Hospital was easy for Aguilar. Her mother worked there as a security guard in the 1980s and her grandmother was a housekeeper in the emergency department. When her twins arrived early, Aguilar was grateful to hear that her babies would be receiving care in the new NICU.

annual-report-2013-caring-for-the-smallest-patients-2“I was excited, thinking we would have more privacy and our own nurse,” Aguilar says. “It was fantastic. We were in the corner of the unit and everything happened in one room. I loved it.”

Lanky Lily, kind of silly and prone to making pterodactyl noises, and chunky Ella, a happy baby with a sweet disposition, now are healthy babies closing in on 20 pounds. Aguilar, who lives with her husband, Ramon, and their twins in Corona, credits the expert team of neonatal specialists at the CHOC NICU at St. Joseph Hospital, including Christine E. Bixby, M.D., with her babies’ health.

“They always had the girls’ best interests in mind,” Aguilar said. “They are all very loving people. I feel like all the care they received helped set up my girls for success.”

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