Helping parents understand the NICU

February 24, 2010 3:25:46 PM PST
Babies are a joy to receive into the world, but when they arrive earlier than expected, they can face a number of health problems. And their hospitalization can be overwhelming for parents. One family and hospital are trying to make it easier for parents whose babies end up in intensive care.

It's called the NICU, which stands neo-natal intensive care unit. It's an area of very sophisticated medicine, but it can be complex, frightening and puzzling to possibly traumatized parents.

The NICU is a place to care for the very tiniest or sickest of babies. And for parents suddenly thrown into a world they never expected, the complexity and fear can be overwhelming.

"Your initial reaction is more like shock and anxiety and fear and sadness," said Dr. Thomas Hegyi, of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. "Our job is to try to allay all of those fears by starting to introduce them what we're using and why we're using it."

Aviva Schapira's baby Tara was born pre-term, 10 weeks early. Tara was in the NICU for 8 weeks, and it was understandably a difficult time for the family.

"It's scary, Schapira said. "There is so much you don't know and so much that can happen."

Chris Russel and his wife know about those fears.

They, with their baby daughter Caitlin, spent 130 difficult days in the NICU. Born 4 months prematurely, Caitlin weighted just over a pound a half at birth. She didn't survive.

"It was a very rough road for us and obviously for her," Chris Russel said. "She passed away. It was just a very difficult time for us, but we wanted to do something for her to give her life a legacy beyond just the time spent here."

That legacy is the Caitlin Russel Foundation, which is now helping other families in the NICU at the Bristol Myers Squibb Children's Hospital in New Brunswick.

It's first donation was "NICU Knowledge," a portable interactive touch screen program for parents to learn more about what goes on in the NICU. It can be brought to a parents' bedside.

"It's very important because they can say I heard this word today, I'm not sure what that means," registered nurse Betty Pro said. "And they can touch the screen and say that's what bradycardia is."

For Schapira, the best part was learning to care for her baby when she took her home.

Probably one of the hardest things in life is to see your baby fighting for his or her life. This program allows the parents to know more and perhaps become more comfortable with their baby's care.

Caitlin Russell did not make it, but thanks to her parents, who wanted to thank her caregivers in the NICU, her legacy lives on. And other parents are benefiting.

For more on the Caitlin Russel Foundation, CLICK HERE.