JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The race to save babies born prematurely or with multiple medical problems finds the finish line a bit closer to home. St. Bernards announced the opening of Northeast Arkansas' only neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. The new unit allows for babies as small as 3 1/3 pounds a chance to stay closer to home and still receive a high level of care.
Jose is one of the first babies to use the new twelve-bed open intensive care unit, or NICU at St. Bernards. Before, moms like Quana had to travel to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock or Memphis to be with their babies.
"St. Bernards announces the opening of it's new neonatal intensive care unit," said Michael Given, chief operating officer for St. Bernards. The announcement is the culmination of two years of collaborative work between UAMS, Arkansas Children's Hospital, local pediatricians and the community.
"That bed is approximately $30,000 to $35,000," said Dr. Douglas Seglem, pointing to a panda warmer that is a part of the NICU.
Dr. Seglem, a neonatologist, is the medical director of the NICU. He says the 1.5 million dollars spent on creating the level three NICU will significantly impact lives in Northeast Arkansas.
"Imagine the gas money to and back from Lttle Rock, time, hotel and we can't put a price on the loss of family, church and social support," said Dr. Seglem.
"It was really, really hard being in that hospital so I could be near the NICU in Memphis with all of my family in Jonesboro," said Jenna Stafford, as she remembered what it was like to deliver triplets in Memphis.
She was one of several moms highlighted in a video shared at a press conference featuring local families who had to deliver elsewhere because of high risk pregnancies and the need to be near a NICU.
"One of the saddest days of my life was the day I came home from the hospital without any babies," said Jackie Sherman, mother of triplets, also delivered outside of Region 8.
One in nine babies requires a higher level of care due to conditions like infections, respiratory problems or heart defects. Infants requiring surgery for heart or other abnormalities will still need to go on to Little Rock or Memphis. But, NICU's higher level of care allows for testing.
About a dozen babies have passed through the NICU. The NICU will allow for 75% of premature and sick infants like Jose to stay closer to home.
The NICU is located on the fifth floor and it part of the BirthCare Center. The cost of equipment for the unit is substantial. Many donors were assembled for a capital campaign run by St. Bernards Development Foundation. Their names appear on the entryway to the unit.