MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — There’s hope for expectant moms who need to deliver between 22 and 28 weeks right here on the Gulf Coast. It’s a story of not only Christmas miracles, but miracles year-round. In one year, 93 babies passed through the unit, too small even for the NICU.
Being pregnant is the most amazing time in a woman’s life! But it can also be a scary time if your doctor tells you it’s time to deliver your baby for one reason or another, and you’re only half-way through your pregnancy. Thankfully, there’s the small baby unit.
It’s the only one like it between here and Tennessee, and one of only nine in the United States. This isn’t the NICU, but works in conjunction with it. The small baby unit at USA’s Children’s and Women’s hospital is for babies who have to come into this world much earlier than expected—some weighing only several ounces.
“He was born at 22 weeks weighing 13.9-ounces,” Molli Potter said.
We met Cullen Potter and his mother, Molli, just after the small baby unit became operational.
“He was the size of my hand and didn’t even look like a baby,” Molli told WKRG News 5.
Today, Cullen is healthy, and it’s all thanks to the small baby unit, and the staff that makes the small baby unit special— and makes it work.
“This is a team effort, really a team effort,” Dr. Fabian Eyal, USA Children’s and Women’s neonatologist.
Because of his long-time service and dedication to the NICU at Children’s and Women’s, the small baby unit was recently named after Dr. Eyal.
“Basically, the idea was although newborn intensive care is newborn intensive care, it is even more intense for babies that are, which gestational age is less than between 24, 25 weeks gestational age. Those babies would benefit from having a specialized team that gets used to taking care of those very tiny babies. I mean, those babies’ birth weight just to give you an idea, are from less than one pound to two pounds. They can be as low as 10 ounces, in fact,” Dr. Eyal said.
He says a number of babies born weighing less than a pound survived, because of his team.
“Those babies stay in the unit anywhere between six to eight months, sometimes up to one year. They often require not only respiratory assistance but they may require surgery for intestinal problems,” Dr. Eyal said.
Part of Dr. Eyal’s team of more than 200 nurses is Cathy McCurley, whose twins were born at the hospital 21 years ago.
“I just went into preterm labor at 23 weeks,” said Cathy McCurley, R.N., USA Children’s and Women’s.
McCurley has been a nurse in USA’s NICU for 25 years and says she uses her experience as a NICU nurse and as a NICU mother in hopes of helping other local mothers going through what she once went through, and sees every day.
“I’ve had a great opportunity to talk to lots of families over the years and to share my own experience. I try not to always lead with that because I don’t want them to feel like I’m trying to take away from their situation but I do like to at some point share so that they kind of know that I do sort of understand being on that side of the bed. And just hopefully giving them some pieces of hope and an empathetic ear, and just trying to sort of help them navigate those very uncertain waters,” McCurley said.
McCurley, Dr. Eyal, and the rest of the team in the small baby unit want to reassure every woman with child now, or in the future, if you’re told you need to deliver early, it’s not the end for you or your baby; their team is there, should you need them, and will be there for you and your family for as long as you need them.