Inside the Small Baby Unit: Ryan’s Story

Danielle McLeod was looking forward to an easy second pregnancy and ultimately caring for her infant son as a confident and assured second-time mom.

But that expectation changed when little Ryan was born three months early this past winter after just 27 weeks gestation and weighing only 2 pounds and 1 ounce.

small baby unit
Patient Ryan shortly after his birth and before he was transferred from another hospital to the Small Baby Unit at CHOC Children’s.

“His head wasn’t much bigger than a pacifier,” Danielle recalls. “He was the littlest baby I had ever seen. He was so skinny, and was all arms and legs. I was amazed at how active he was for such a little person. Like many preemies, he was a fighter from the start.”

And fight Ryan did inside CHOC Children’s Small Baby Unit (SBU), a portion of CHOC’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) dedicated to the care of babies born with extremely low birth weights. These patients are born at less than 28 weeks gestation and weighing less than 1,000 grams, or about 2 pounds and 3 ounces.

In the SBU, “micro-preemies” like Ryan receive coordinated care in a developmentally appropriate environment. A trailblazer in neonatal care nationwide, the unit is saving babies who just decades ago wouldn’t have likely survived.

“With its coordinated care in an environmentally appropriate location, the Small Baby Unit is designed to care specifically for babies like Ryan,” says Dr. Kushal Bhakta, Ryan’s neonatologist and medical director of the SBU. “When he came to the unit, he required significant ventilator support due to an ongoing infection, and he had a long road ahead of him.”

Danielle’s breezy pregnancy took a sudden turn early in her second trimester when her doctor found in her womb a subchronic hematoma, an indicator that she might deliver her baby early.

 Danielle was put on bed rest, but a few weeks later, bleeding and signs of labor showed. At the hospital, doctors were able to stop the labor and admitted Danielle to keep it from beginning again too early. But about six weeks later, Danielle’s water broke and she underwent an emergency cesarean section.

On Valentine’s Day, after two weeks of ups and downs, Ryan was transferred to the SBU at CHOC and the McLeod family began their four-month journey.

“I don’t think people understand the pain that comes with having a child and not being able to hold him immediately or not being able to take him home shortly after delivery and share him with the world,” Danielle says.

small baby unit
Ryan was born at 27 weeks gestation and spent 17 weeks in CHOC’s small baby unit before going home.

She continues, “It was difficult knowing that there were many obstacles for Ryan to overcome before he could even think about coming home. Simple things like eating by mouth, a task that should come naturally, are challenging for babies born premature.”

During that time, while also focusing on growing, Ryan also battled chronic lung disease and a brain bleed, and learned to eat and breathe on his own. Meanwhile, Danielle and husband, Jared, learned how to care for a baby born more than three months early.

“I’ll never forget our first day at CHOC,” she says. “I was so overwhelmed, scared, and nervous. Once Ryan was settled in the SBU, his nurse came in to do his very first set of cares. I sat and watched, afraid to touch him. He was so fragile.”

She continues, “His nurse said, ‘Get in there, mama. You can do it.’ She had me put my hand on him, my hand covering his whole little torso. She talked me though what to do when caring for an extra small baby. From then on, I felt confident to be close to my little fighter.”

small baby unit
Members of Ryan’s care team included Dr. Kushal Bhakta, medical director, and Ryan’s mom Danielle.

After 17 weeks in the SBU, Ryan finally went home to join his parents and brother. He still receives oxygen treatment and undergoes physical therapy twice a week, but is doing well.

It takes a village of physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers and other clinicians to help bring babies like Ryan home — and every one on the care team partners with patients’ families.

“During his stay in the unit, Ryan overcame great obstacles, thanks to the partnership between his care team and his parents,” Dr. Bhakta says. “Our goal in the unit is to get our patients home with the best possible outcomes. Today, Ryan is doing well and has a bright future ahead.”

small baby unit
At CHOC, parents are valued members of the care team. Here. Ryan’s dad holds him for the first time in the small baby unit.

Small but mighty, Ryan is rolling over and pushing himself up well, and is working toward sitting up by himself.

“He also loves smiling and laughing, especially at his big brother,” Danielle says.

small baby unit
After graduating from CHOC’s small baby unit, Ryan has been enjoying being home with his family and playing with his older brother.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” she says. “We are so grateful to all the wonderful nurses and doctors who cared for Ryan. I know he is doing so well because of the amazing care he received while in the SBU. We love our little fighter. He’s such a good baby. He is truly a miracle and we are blessed to be able to witness this little guy’s journey.”

Related posts:

  • Meet Dr. Kushal Bhakta
    In recognition of prematurity awareness month, we’re highlighting Dr. Kushal Bhakta, medical director of CHOC Children’s Small Baby Unit (SBU). The Small Baby Unit – the first of its kind – ...
  • Small Baby Unit Before and After
    In observance of Prematurity Awareness Month, meet a few graduates of the Small Baby Unit (SBU) at CHOC Children’s. The only of its kind in Orange County, the SBU focuses on ...
  • Pediatrics Article Highlights Big Outcomes in CHOC’s Small Baby Unit
    CHOC Children’s Small Baby Unit (SBU) is improving quality and outcomes in extremely low birth weight (ELBW) infants (babies born at 28 weeks gestation or less and weighing less than ...

Meet Dr. Kushal Bhakta

In recognition of prematurity awareness month, we’re highlighting Dr. Kushal Bhakta, medical director of CHOC Children’s Small Baby Unit (SBU).

Dr. Kushal Bhakta
Meet Dr. Kushal Bhakta, medical director of the small baby unit at CHOC Children’s

The Small Baby Unit – the first of its kind – opened in 2010. The special 12-bed unit within our neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is designed for babies born at less than 28 weeks gestation or who weigh less than 1,000 grams. The space is designed to aid in babies’ development with dim lighting and low noise levels, mimicking the womb’s environment as closely as possible. The unit is also nurturing for patients’ families. Since they are going through many of the same experiences, families are able to bond and support one another.

“It’s an amazing blessing to be part of these families’ lives. So many parents write to us and send pictures long after they’ve left the hospital. There is a mutual respect, and they become part of our extended family,” Dr. Bhakta says.

Board certified in pediatrics and neonatal-perinatal medicine, Dr. Bhakta is part of a specialized, highly trained team at CHOC. He owes the success of the unit to his team, he says.

“It’s inspiring to see the team’s passion for the lives of these babies,” Dr. Bhakta says. “From nurses to respiratory therapists, and all other disciplines, everyone on the team takes care of our patients like they were their own children.”

The highly committed team is improving quality and outcomes in extremely low birth weight infants. Impressive outcomes from the two years before and four years after the SBU’s opening in March 2010 include:

  • Significant reduction in chronic lung disease of prematurity.
  • Significant reduction in the rate of hospital-acquired infections.
  • Significant reduction in infants being discharged with growth restriction . These factors are linked to cognitive and physical disabilities.
  • Reduction in the average number of laboratory tests and X-rays per patient.

Dr. Bhakta’s vision for the SBU is to be recognized nationally and beyond as the premier destination for the care of extremely preterm infants. Dr. Bhakta and his team have hosted many hospitals interested in modeling their units after CHOC’s SBU. As leaders in their field, the team hopes to continue to improve patient outcomes.

“We’ve come so far in how we treat this patient population, he says. “We don’t want to only adapt knowledge, but create the knowledge and help set standards of care for these patients.”

Dr. Bhakta received his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine and completed his pediatric residency and neonatal-perinatal fellowship training at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, in Houston, Texas. He later joined the faculty at Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children’s Hospital as assistant professor of pediatrics, where he also obtained an advanced certificate in teaching through the Educational Scholars Fellowship Program.

Dr. Bhakta has received several awards throughout his career, including “Super Doctors Southern California Rising Stars” in 2014 and 2015.

In his spare time, this dedicated physician enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters.

Learn more about CHOC Children’s Small Baby Unit.

Related posts:

Small Baby Unit Before and After

In observance of Prematurity Awareness Month, meet a few graduates of the Small Baby Unit (SBU) at CHOC Children’s. The only of its kind in Orange County, the SBU focuses on caring for the unique needs of the smallest and sickest babies. This special unit is designed for babies born at less than 28 weeks gestation or who weigh less than 1,000 grams.

moanalani

Moanalani Solomon
Current age: 1
Birthday: July 14, 2015
Gestational age at birth: 28 weeks
Birth weight: 2 pounds, 13 ounces
Personality now: “Moanalani is an extremely happy baby who loves to chat with anyone who will listen.  She can roll over and wants to show that trick off as soon as she’s on the floor. She is feisty and absolutely full of life,” says Noelani, Moanalani’s mother.
Reflections on the journey: “We got to know every family in the unit. We really became such a support group for each other. We exchanged phone numbers and birth dates of all the other babies, and asked ‘How did you get here?’ and ‘What’s your story?’ You become family. You’re here for the same purpose. That’s what we really clung to,” Noelani says.

small baby unit

Lucas Zaragoza
Current age: 1
Birthday: June 16, 2015
Gestational age at birth: 24 weeks
Birth weight: 1 pound, 8 ounce
Personality now: “Lucas is always happy, loveable, mischievous, very alert, and curious,” says Heather, Lucas’ mother.
Reflections on the journey: “The nurses told us we’d be very hands on, take his temperature, change his diaper, hold him. They said, ‘It’s OK, we’ll walk you through it.’ They’re part of our family now. We don’t know we would be without CHOC and the nurses and doctors and everyone who had a hand in Lucas’ care,” Heather says.

small baby unit
Jeremiah Zazueta
Current age: 6
Birthday: March 22, 2010
Gestational age at birth: 25 weeks
Birth weight: 2 pounds, 4 ounces
Personality now: “Jeremiah, known as J.J., is a kindergartner full of life and personality. He is very outgoing and friendly. He enjoys playing T-ball, singing, reading, and playing with Hot Wheels. In other words, he’s a typical active boy,” says Maria, Jeremiah’s mother.
Reflections on the journey: “At that moment, you just want them breathing. The doctor said if he cries when he’s born, that’s a good thing. I heard a whimper like a kitten and that gave me peace. The doctor said he’s a feisty one – he was moving his arms. This one’s a feisty one,” Maria says.

small baby unit

Parker Evans
Current age
: 4
Birthday: Sept. 29, 2012
Gestational age at birth: 23 weeks
Birth weight: 1 pound, 1 ounce
Personality now: “Parker’s battle to survive despite the odds seems to have established a bold defiance of the day-to-day challenges that life presents. Every task, no matter how simple or complex, is something that she routinely and emphatically proclaims, ‘I want to do it all by myself!’ The smallest of her peers and behind in her physical development, Parker seems to be the only one not to notice. She has a zest for life and is intent on taking full advantage of the chance she has been given,” says Kristina, Parker’s mother.
Reflections on the journey: “We ended up falling in love with the Small Baby Unit, the nurses and the consistency. Everyone in that unit made a huge difference,” Kristina says.

small baby unit

Faith and Brayden Kohrs
Current age
: 3
Birthday: Nov. 26, 2012
Gestational age at birth: 24 weeks
Birth weight: Both 1 pound, 10 ounces
Personality now:  “We love their amazing hearts, helpful spirits and beautiful souls. They are truly our two little blessings. The kiddos love to travel. They do really well on road trips. Going out with Grandpa Kohrs on his boat in Lake Havasu is always a blast. Faith loves to dance. Brayden loves blocks and Legos. They both love Mickey Mouse Club House, music and books,” says Marydith, the twins’ mother.
Reflections on the journey: “We love the wonderful, wonderful Small Baby Unit staff. They are the reasons we have our babies today. They are just amazing,” Marydith says.

Pediatrics Article Highlights Big Outcomes in CHOC’s Small Baby Unit

CHOC Children’s Small Baby Unit (SBU) is improving quality and outcomes in extremely low birth weight (ELBW) infants (babies born at 28 weeks gestation or less and weighing less than 1,000 grams), according to results of an article CHOC physicians and staff published in a recent issue of Pediatrics.

“In recent years, the survival rates for ELBW infants have improved with the latest advances in neonatal intensive care, but many are still released from the hospital with significant challenges, including neurodevelopmental delays and/or chronic medical problems,” said Mindy Morris, DNP, the SBU program coordinator and the article’s co-author. “Our goal was to improve these outcomes by utilizing a dedicated team with expertise in the care of these patients.”

The objective of the CHOC neonatology team was to care for ELBW infants in a single location physically separated from the main Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). This space became the 12-bed SBU, which consisted of four individual patient rooms, two of which are surgical suites, and three four-bed pods. Different from a traditional NICU, this smaller unit allows for a darker, quieter environment that encourages developmentally supportive care. The goal is to create an environment that respects and supports the physiologic needs of the baby to grow and develop after being born so prematurely. Grouping this population also provides parents an opportunity to form strong bonds with other families sharing similar experiences.

Outcomes from the two years before and four years after the SBU’s opening in March 2010 include:

• Reduction in chronic lung disease from 47.5 percent to 35.4 percent. A common condition for premature babies, chronic lung disease can have long-lasting ramifications including re-hospitalization and poor neurodevelopment.

• Rate of hospital-acquired infection decreased from 39.3 percent to 19.4 percent.

• Infants being discharged with growth restriction (combined weight and head circumference, < 10th percentile) decreased from 62.3 percent to 37.3 percent. (These factors are linked to cognitive and physical disabilities.)

• Reduction in laboratory tests (from 224 to 82) and X-rays (from 45 to 22).

Additionally, there was a reduction in illness and complications among infants after leaving the SBU.

Moving forward, the SBU’s goal is to continue to improve patient outcomes, as well as family and staff satisfaction, while also becoming a destination for the care of extremely preterm infants.

CHOC’s Small Baby Unit Helps Twins’ Succesful Outcome

On March 17, 2010, CHOC Children’s opened its Small Baby Unit within the neonatal intensive care unit, to care for the unique needs of the smallest and sickest babies. Since then, the unit has delivered specialized, high-quality care to close to 300 neonates. In honor of the unit’s fifth anniversary, read about one of the many remarkable patient stories from this special place.

For twins Damian and Victoria Daboub, timing is everything. They made their debut too early — at 27 weeks. Damian was 2 pounds, 14 inches, and Victoria was 2 pounds, 13 inches. Yet their timing was perfect because they arrived just as CHOC Children’s opened its 12-bed Small Baby Unit in March 2010.

Designed expressly for low birth weight babies born at less than 28 weeks or weighing less than 1,000 grams, the Small Baby Unit has its own dedicated team of specialists and is the only one of its kind in Southern California. Further, the unit is designed to aid in the babies’ development with dim lighting and low noise levels.

Damian stayed in the Small Baby Unit for 85 days, and Victoria was there for 105 days. Mom Miriam credits the Small Baby Unit for the twins’ survival. Today, they are “off the charts” in terms of height and weight, and are gregarious, joyful preschoolers. While their language is a bit delayed, it doesn’t stop them from enjoying all of their activities. Miriam truly believes her children’s successful outcome is the direct result of this “little wing where they can focus on growing.”

Learn more about the CHOC Small Baby Unit.

Related posts:

  • Meet Dr. Christine Bixby
    CHOC Children’s wants its patients and families to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Christine Bixby, a neonatologist. She completed a fellowship in neonatology, as well as her ...
  • Inside the Small Baby Unit: Ryan’s Story
    Danielle McLeod was looking forward to an easy second pregnancy and ultimately caring for her infant son as a confident and assured second-time mom. But that expectation changed when little Ryan ...
  • Meet Dr. Kushal Bhakta
    In recognition of prematurity awareness month, we’re highlighting Dr. Kushal Bhakta, medical director of CHOC Children’s Small Baby Unit (SBU). The Small Baby Unit – the first of its kind – ...

Choco’s Gratitude Tour: The Greatest Hits

Choco Pillow Framed_square
This Choco Bear pillow was placed inside the 1964 time capsule. Read the blog post to see what else was included

When I began my gratitude tour last October to help celebrate CHOC’s 50th anniversary, I had no idea that I’d meet so many cool people and see so much fun stuff.

I’ve had a blast making my way around the hospital, meeting new people and blogging about my experiences! And even better, once my 50-week tour ends next month, I’ll always have these posts to read again and remember all these awesome times.

Here’s a look at some of my favorite posts from this past year:

CHOC Campus 1964
Here’s CHOC in its early days. Read this post to learn how the hospital campus has evolved in 50 years.

Sing-a-long: The Choco Bear Song: Did you know I have my very own song? Read this post to learn the lyrics and sing along with me.

CHOC Children’s Campus: Then and Now: This post was a blast from the past! Read to learn about how CHOC’s campus has changed in the last half century.

Choco Bear’s Evolving Style: I’ve had quite a few looks since 1964. This post shows photographs of yours truly throughout the years.

Inside CHOC’s 1964 Time Capsule: CHOC staff hid a time capsule to commemorate the hospital’s opening in 1964. Read this post to see what was buried inside.  

Inside CHOC’s 1993 Time Capsule: This post gave an inside look at what CHOC tucked inside its second time capsule.

During my tour, I’ve also met many really neat people. Let me introduce you to some of the new friends I made this year:

photo-67
Meet Parker, one of my new friends I met this year. Read this post to learn more about the graduate from CHOC’s Small Baby Unit.

Parker: Meet Parker, a graduate of CHOC’s Small Baby Unit, a special part of the neonatal intensive care unit dedicated to the care of micro-preemies. When we first met, she had just celebrated her first birthday.

Bill: Bill received treatment for leukemia at CHOC in the 1970s, and went on to become a hospital chaplain in Orange County.

Josh: This young man was treated at CHOC for childhood allergies and asthma. Josh was so inspired that he became a pediatrician and performed his residency here at CHOC.

IMAGE_2
Meet Amy and Emily, two sisters who were treated at CHOC.

Amy and Emily: These ladies are sisters who both underwent treatment at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s. They are both very accomplished and so inspiring.

You can check out more posts like these from my gratitude tour at choc.org/thxchoc and look for more in coming weeks. We still have some more time until CHOC’s big day on Oct. 4, so you can bet I’ll be making the most of it.

Thank you for reading!

 

Neonatology: Then and Now

sbu_thenandnowCHOC Children’s has always done a great job of treating premature babies, and infants with heart problems, infections or birth defects. Over the last 50 years, I’ve seen technology and medicine change a lot in neonatology.

An extra special place at CHOC is its Small Baby Unit, a program within its neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Reserved for the smallest and sickest babies, this unit gives hope to babies who wouldn’t have had a chance in 1964.

There, every newborn receives care from dedicated staff members. The space also has shrouded incubators to keep light away from the baby’s sensitive eyes and everyone (even family members) speaks gently to help create a calm, comforting and healing environment.

Kangaroo Care is another technique in neonatology that has grown in popularity since 1964. As babies spend time lying on their parents’ chests, they become more alert, cry less often and even a find feeding rhythm. Premature babies benefit from this practice by facing fewer complications, gaining weight and growing closer to their parents.

I know the doctors and nurses at CHOC care about the precious lives in the NICU. They provide exceptional service, but they’re not just focused on treating symptoms or reading monitors. They are also committed to giving newborns and families a strong chance of living healthy lives.

Tell me how CHOC helped your newborn baby and family by using the hashtag #thxCHOC on social media.

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CHOC Children’s 67-bed NICU includes four multi-patient rooms, six single care rooms, four private rooms for “rooming in,” and two four-bed suites. The unit also features a two-bed Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) unit. The life-saving ECMO unit is the only one of its kind in Orange County and CHOC also offers Orange County’s only ECMO transport unit.

Extremely Low Birth Weight Program Provides Significant Outcomes for Tiny Patients

Medical advances are improving the survival of babies born at lower gestational ages, but survival – alone – isn’t the best measure of success, says Dr. Tony Soliman, a CHOC Children’s neonatologist.

In this CHOC Radio segment, Dr. Soliman shares his and his team’s commitment to ensuring not only the survival of this very fragile patient population but to ensuring bright, healthy futures for these babies.

According to Dr. Soliman, there’s no program on the West Coast like CHOC’s extremely low birth weight program, which is designed to address the unique needs of infants born at less than 28 weeks gestation and weighing less than 1,000 grams. He says having a specialized team, specific care guidelines and a separate unit – versus the main Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – have resulted in significant outcomes for his patients.

Tune in to hear more about the success of this very special program.

 

A Bright Future: Parker’s Story

So far, my 50-week gratitude tour at CHOC is going great. Already, I’ve met many other people who also have CHOC to thank for making their future bright.

Today, I wanted to share one of these stories with you. Let’s learn more about Parker, who recently celebrated her first birthday – thanks to CHOC.

photo-67A year ago, a first birthday party was an uncertainty for Parker Evans, who was born weighing just 1 pound, 1 ounce after only 23 weeks gestation.

So, when the milestone approached after a long fight in CHOC’s Small Baby Unit (SBU), it was only appropriate that the Evans family would throw a blowout bash for their miracle baby.

“We said it was like a celebration of life,” says mom, Kristina.

Parker is one of scores of micro-preemies who have received special care inside the SBU since it opened in 2010. In the unit, infants born at less than 28 weeks gestation and weighing less than 1,000 grams receive coordinated care by specially trained staff.

“We ended up falling in love with the small baby unit – the nurses, the consistency, the environment,” Kristina says.

The SBU’s space differs from a traditional neonatal intensive care unit: Tiny babies lie inside shrouded incubators that keep light away from their underdeveloped eyes. Even a whisper is harsh for these babies’ ears, so families and staff members speak in a gentle “library voice.” The goal is to mimic the womb’s environment as closely as possible so that infants can focus on growing.

“You never think this would happen to you, or that this world exists – that is until you’re in it,” says Kristina. “I’m so lucky that CHOC has that unit.”

Parker was delivered by cesarean section after Kristina suffered blood loss attributed to placenta previa, a condition where a woman’s placenta is too close to her cervix.

Transferred to the SBU nine days later, Parker remained there for 132 days until she was well enough to go home to south Orange County.

About a year later, Parker is growing and thriving. Parker does receive physical therapy, but she is on track developmentally and physicians foresee no future disabilities.

Kristina credits the SBU and its staff with ensuring a bright future for her daughter.

“I’m not going to lie: Having an extremely premature baby is the hardest thing a parent can ever go through, but everyone in that unit made a huge difference,” she said. “We fell in love with the Small Baby Unit.”

More stories about CHOC patients:

  • CHOC Patient Inspired to Become CHOC Doc
    At 6 years old, Vanessa Avina was more interested in viewing the monitor for her echocardiography (heart ultrasound) than watching a cartoon during her doctor’s visits. Her CHOC pediatric cardiologist ...
  • CHOC Walk in the Park: Justin’s Helpers
    As it celebrates its 25th anniversary, CHOC “Walk in the Park” has raised more than $24 million to fund education, research and adoption and utilization of the latest technologies to ...
  • A Bright Future: Ian and Micah’s Story
    Even though I’ve been hanging around CHOC Children’s for a long time now, I am continually surprised by the courage, tenacity and strength of the patients I meet. It’s especially ...

Small Baby Unit Outcomes: Big Improvements for the Littlest Patients

 

CHOC Small Baby Unit patient, Emma Faith, who weighed only 1 pound 4 ounces at birth.
CHOC Small Baby Unit patient, Emma Faith, who weighed only 1 pound 4 ounces at birth.

Weighing in at just 1 pound and 4 ounces at birth, baby Emma Faith received a special nickname from the nurses who cared for her inside CHOC Children’s Small Baby Unit (SBU): Mighty Mouse.

Three years later, Emma Faith is living up to that title as an energetic little girl, one of scores of children who have received treatment inside the SBU since it opened in 2010. Thriving and flourishing, she is the perfect embodiment of the impressive outcomes reported by the unit.

Recently released three-year data show a notable shift in outcomes for patients discharged in 2012, compared to those discharged in 2009, before the opening of the 12-bed unit for infants born at less than 28 weeks gestation or smaller than 1,000 grams:

• Weight and head circumference: In 2012, just 16 percent of all infants discharged from the unit were below the third percentile for weight and head circumference, while 39 percent were in 2009. These factors are linked to cognitive and physical disabilities.

• Oral feeding rates: In 2012, 84 percent of infants were being fed completely orally, rather than through a feeding tube, upon discharge, compared to 65 percent in 2009. CHOC’s SBU practices infant-driven feedings, wherein the baby drives her own advancement of nipple feeding – not staff.

• Infection rates: In 2012, 15 percent of infants suffered hospital-borne infections, while 41 percent did in 2009. The SBU attributes this dramatic shift to a team approach, a reduction in central lines and excellent hygiene among staff and families.

• Chronic lung disease rates: In 2012, 27 percent of infants left the unit with chronic lung disease, compared to 45

Emma Faith today.
Emma Faith today.

percent in 2009. This common condition for premature babies can have long-lasting ramifications including re-hospitalization and poor neurodevelopment. Related, in 2012, 11 percent of infants went home from CHOC’s SBU on oxygen support, while 32 percent did in 2009.

• Labs and X-rays: The numbers of labs and X-rays have each been reduced by about half since 2009.

The unit opened in 2010. Though preterm infants were already receiving exceptional care in the NICU, CHOC physicians recognized that increasing medical literature-based efforts could improve outcomes.

Specifically, research indicates that babies with extremely low birth weights (ELBW) could greatly benefit from guideline-driven care provided by dedicated and specially trained staff inside a low-stimulus environment.

Three years later, the SBU is doing just that.

There, patients lie inside shrouded incubators that keep light away from their underdeveloped eyes. Even a whisper is harsh for these babies’ ears, so families and staff members speak in a gentle “library voice.” The goal is to mimic the womb’s environment as closely as possible so that infants can focus on growing.

“We’ve created this really unique place that only a handful of hospitals have,” says Dr. Antoine Soliman, a CHOC neonatologist.

But the space is equally nurturing for the parents of these tiny babies. Here, they find solidarity and support as they bond over an experience most parents cannot understand.

“We grew a bond, and we’re still very close. They are my family,” says Emma Faith’s mother, Eunice, who became close with other parents during her time in the unit. “We understand each other.”

Moving forward, the SBU’s goal is to continue to improve patient outcomes, as well as family and staff satisfaction, while also becoming a destination for the care of extremely preterm infants.

More stories about the Small Baby Unit:

  • Inside the Small Baby Unit: Ryan’s Story
    Danielle McLeod was looking forward to an easy second pregnancy and ultimately caring for her infant son as a confident and assured second-time mom. But that expectation changed when little Ryan ...
  • Meet Dr. Kushal Bhakta
    In recognition of prematurity awareness month, we’re highlighting Dr. Kushal Bhakta, medical director of CHOC Children’s Small Baby Unit (SBU). The Small Baby Unit – the first of its kind – ...
  • Small Baby Unit Before and After
    In observance of Prematurity Awareness Month, meet a few graduates of the Small Baby Unit (SBU) at CHOC Children’s. The only of its kind in Orange County, the SBU focuses on ...