Meet Dr. Kushal Bhakta

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

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

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 the CHOC Small Baby Unit.

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Small Baby Unit Before and After

In observance of Prematurity Awareness Month, meet a few graduates of the Small Baby Unit (SBU) at CHOC. 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 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 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 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.

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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:

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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.

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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!