Toledo Children’s Hospital to host NICU reunionWritten by Michael Stainbrook | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The third floor of Toledo Children’s Hospital is charged with caring for the region’s most vulnerable citizens — the infants in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
To celebrate another year of success stories and the progress made by NICU graduates, the annual NICU reunion will take place Sept. 20 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Ability Center of Greater Toledo.
NICU director Judy Gresky said the event is special for the entire staff.
“It really is a chance for the nurses to get to see the families,” she said. “The doctors remember, too.” The doctors and nurses enjoy seeing the progress their former patients have made after leaving the third floor, she said.
Toledo Children’s Hospital treats babies “from 22 weeks to full term.” The third floor is able to handle this wide range due to its status as a Level III NICU, which enables it to treat the most critically ill newborns, as well as those simply needing minor additional help. The Toledo Children’s Hospital NICU is the largest Level III NICU in the region and it serves 27 counties in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan.
The NICU, which opened in 1974, treats 700 to 800 babies each year, Gresky said. The 2008 average was 47 babies at a time, but this year’s average occupancy is lower.
“We don’t know if it’s because of the economy or what,” she said, citing a change in family planning due to the recession. At maximum occupancy, the third floor can treat 60 babies in its 44 rooms, which include 28 singles and 16 doubles.
“We’ve only been in this unit for a year and a half,” said ProMedica Health System Director of Media Relations Tedra White.
According to Gresky, the former NICU was limited to 25 square feet per newborn, with all infants in a single large room. The new NICU is much more spacious, with each baby having an average of 150 square feet of space for optimal comfort and silence. The east wing of the floor houses the nearly healthy newborns, while the west wing is reserved for the more fragile babies. Each newborn is connected to a heart monitor, and many incubators are technologically advanced to provide warmth and to allow easy access for caretakers without having to relocate the baby for treatment.
Special features of the third floor include two transition rooms, which allow families to adjust to caring for their babies before they are released, an operating room and a transport room, which stores four mobile incubators and flight suits for transit by air ambulance. Gresky spoke highly of the NICU transport team.
“They do a very good job,” she said. The goal is to be airborne in 22 minutes.
At the time of the interview, Gresky said the occupancy of the NICU to be 45 infants, under the care of 18 nurses.
“Usually, we have a one-to-two or one-to-three [nurse-to-] baby assignment,” she said. According to Gresky, who has 30 years of nursing experience and has been at the head of the NICU for three years, the NICU staff is numerous and varied.
“We require a pretty heavy support staff,” she said. “We have close to 160 people.” This staff includes five licensed practical nurses (LPN), 122 registered nurses (RN), eight neonatologists, including one doctor in-house at all times, as well as four nurse practitioners and the transport team. Not only is this workforce numerous, but it is also experienced.
“Our average experience during the day is 24 years,” Gresky said.
One nurse who has played a role on the staff is Sarah Reynolds, an RN who has eleven years of NICU experience. Reynolds first decided to enter neonatal nursing upon the premature birth of her own child while she was in nursing school.
“[My job] is rewarding,” she said. “It makes you feel good.”
Gary Kemerer, was born premature in March 2007. According to his father, Ken Kemerer, Gary was born after 24 weeks of pregnancy and weighed a mere one pound, 15 ounces at birth. Gary’s twin brother, Jacob, had been diagnosed with low amniotic fluid while still in the womb, and this ultimately forced the early delivery at Toledo Hospital.
Jacob died eight hours after delivery, and Gary, who had no issues while in the womb, had an uphill battle due to his very premature birth.
“Primarily, [Gary’s issue] was lung function,” Ken said. “He was on a respirator for almost 30 days, and he also had a heart issue.”
Gary remained in the NICU until June before coming home, and he returned to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) in August.
“We were living in the hospital four of the first five months of his life,’’ Ken said.
Fortunately, Gary continued to develop normally, much to the credit of his initial care in the NICU, his father said. Today, Gary is nearly 40 inches tall (thanks in part to his father’s 6-foot-7 frame), and his speech and motor skills are normal for his age. Ken credited the nurses with emotionally supporting Gary’s mother, Mary, as well as keeping them informed at all times.
“The hospital staff was phenomenal at educating us and telling us what the next step was going to be,” Ken said. “Everything has turned out well … it’s almost a miracle. He wouldn’t be doing as well as he is if it wasn’t for the people at Toledo Children’s.”
Mary couldn’t agree more.
“He wasn’t just a patient to them,” she said. “I got to know all of the nursing staff, so when I wasn’t there, I felt very comfortable leaving him with the nurses.”
Ken Kemerer noted Sarah Reynolds as a large reason for Gary’s success.
“The word ‘hero’ doesn’t normally apply to people like [Sarah], but in my opinion it applies here because people like Sarah cared enough to know that when something goes wrong, it hurts. They care almost as much as the parents. A majority of the time things turn out good. Sarah is one of those nurses,” Ken said.
Mary, a first-grade teacher, still takes Gary to the NICU to see his nurses every three to six months, and they plan to attend the NICU reunion. Additionally, they attended the reunion last year and a black tie fundraiser for the hospital, where Gary served as the ambassador.
According to the Kemerers, who reside in Adrian, Mich., the reunion is a great opportunity to connect with other families who have experienced the roller coaster of having a baby in the NICU.
“There are quite a few families that I still keep in contact with,” Mary said. She explained that since the NICU serves 27 counties, most of the families are not centrally located, so the reunion serves as a way to reunite them once a year.
“It’s really cool to go back and see them in person,” Mary said. “The kids can interact now.”
The Ability Center of Greater Toledo is located at 5605 Monroe St. in Sylvania. The reunion will include games, crafts, entertainment and refreshments. Families of NICU graduates of all ages are welcome.