“When we had the opportunity to design this unit, our approach was very deliberate in creating a setting where the environment would be more appropriate for premature patients,” says Dr. Michael Dunn, staff neonatologist, whose input helped steer the design of Sunnybrook’s NICU, which opened in September 2010.
“There’s been a very big shift in neonatology to try to interfere less and facilitate natural development as much as possible. This facility allows that to take place much more effectively.”
“Our technology is a tool that we have to enhance what the baby is created to do, which is to bond with the parent,” says Ms. King. “When it comes right down to it, babies grow and thrive when they’re with their moms or dads. All our technology is focused on putting these babies back to where they belong – with parents – and the impact that has on their families is immense.”
Even years later, Sunnybrook has a special place in the hearts of NICU ‘graduates’ and their parents. Much of that is due to the fact care doesn’t stop when infants are discharged; patients are followed through Sunnybrook’s NICU Follow-Up program for as long as six years.
Sunnybrook’s NICU experts assess infants’ physical, motor and cognitive development, making referrals to community services and specialized professional consultation when needed. Parents are made part of the health-care team early on, learning to manage the stresses of the NICU and focus on their babies.
And Sunnybrook’s follow-up clinic is like no other in Ontario, treating patients up to six years old where others stop at two. Here, former NICU parents talk about what Sunnybrook meant to them.
Maggie weighed just one pound when she was born 15 weeks premature. Barely larger than a block of butter, she fit into the palm of her dad’s hand.
It was a stressful start to life, to be sure. An emergency C-section at just 25 weeks had saved Maggie’s life after she stopped growing in the womb, but landed her in a potential minefield of complications. Maggie had one thing going for her: Sunnybrook’s NICU was her home for the first four months of her life.
“I think about it every day, and I’m grateful for Sunnybrook every day,” says Kate, Maggie’s mom. “Maggie is wonderful, and she wouldn’t be if Sunnybrook hadn’t been there.”
Kate is now Sunnybrook’s NICU parent coordinator, a role that sees her sharing the knowledge she learned first-hand as a NICU mom with parents experiencing the same challenges today.
“Sunnybrook is very good at developmental care,” says Kate. “It’s not just about keeping babies alive; it’s about giving them the best possible future.”
Six years later, Maggie’s biggest concerns are whether to take ballet or breakdancing, and where she should focus her career within the arts. You know, kids’ stuff.
Thomas has come a long way since March 2000.
Born after an emergency C-section at 24 weeks, Thomas weighed less than two pounds and suffered from frequent lung infections. He spent the next four-and-a-half months in the neonatal intensive care unit, struggling to adapt to new ventilation techniques.
Today, he has dreams of being a professional snowboarder, can pitch a baseball at 77 km/h and plays the bagpipes.
“He’s been playing four years and loves it – and it’s not an easy instrument to play,” says Joanne, his mother. “He’s also a strong swimmer and plays hockey – all these lung-dependent activities – and he has absolutely no problems with them.”
Much of that success is no doubt due to Sunnybrook’s extensive NICU Follow-Up Clinic. With a follow-up rate of 85 per cent and seeing up to 200 babies and children a month, the clinic is designed to ensure preemies – many of whom develop physical, behavioural and learning disabilities – receive the best start in life.
“We are the standard of excellence. We spend years with our families and share their ups and downs,” says Dr. Paige Church, director of the clinic and one of only two pediatricians in North America – and the only one in Canada – with a combined fellowship in neonatal-perinatal medicine and developmental behavioural pediatrics.