In the past two weeks, Wellington Regional Medical Center provided advanced, emergency treatment for two infants born prematurely at 23 and 25 weeks. Both babies were born with patent ductus arteriosus, or PDA, a heart condition that is common in premature babies. Both PDA ligation surgeries were performed in about 40 minutes at bedside by pediatric cardiac surgeon Dr. Michael Black.
Before birth, the placenta, not the lungs, oxygenates a baby’s blood. Because of this, the circulatory system of a fetus is very different from that of a newborn baby. A small amount of blood goes to the lungs to nourish them, but most of the blood bypasses the lungs completely. Instead, blood flows through the ductus arteriosus — a hole between the pulmonary artery and the aorta — and out to the rest of the body.
After birth, the baby begins to breathe, and the lungs start oxygenating the blood. When this happens, the PDA should close, allowing blood to flow freely to the lungs. If the ductus arteriosus does not close, deoxygenated blood flows through the PDA, into the aorta and out to the body instead of becoming oxygenated by the lungs.
If a PDA is causing issues, doctors will typically try and treat it with medication. NeoProfen, a special form of ibuprofen, is the medication most commonly used to close a PDA. In fact, this is one of the reasons pregnant women are told not to take ibuprofen once they reach their third trimester. If NeoProfen doesn’t work, doctors may try another medication called Indocin. In some cases, PDA ligation surgery will be needed.
A new level of neonatal intensive care became available with the opening of Wellington Regional’s Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in January 2009. The hospital’s Level III services represent a continued commitment to providing specialized care for newborns, first demonstrated with the opening of a 10-bed Level II NICU in 2002.
Now, Wellington Regional takes care of the highest-risk pregnancies, as well as the sickest and tiniest of babies. The impressive 15,000-square-foot, 25-bed NICU provides highly advanced technology in an environment unsurpassed in design and comfort.
Although most new parents are able to bring their newborns home when they leave the hospital, some babies require additional medical care and may need to remain in the NICU for days, weeks or even longer. WRMC’s Level III NICU cares for the widest range of newborn conditions, from the most unstable babies to those born with the lowest birth weights. In addition to respiratory and infectious conditions commonly seen in a neonatal unit, Level III units also attend to specialized surgical, cardiac and neurological conditions.
WRMC continues to increase its staff of specialized NICU nurses and respiratory therapists, along with support from the departments of radiology, laboratory and pharmacy.
Neonatologists — physicians trained in the care of the sickest and smallest newborns — staff the unit 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To learn more about obstetric and NICU services and other service lines available at WRMC, call (561) 798-8500.