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The love, compassion, and tears of a neonatal ward

The bond between a neonatal team and the babies, a
Photo: The love, compassion, and tears of a neonatal ward
The neonatal team at Mater Mothers’ Hospital Neocritical Care Unit have implemented key changes to the way premature babies are treated in the delivery room, leading to marked improvements in survival rates as well as a decline in lung disease amongst newborns who arrive early.

For parents of a premature baby born earlier this year, Emma and David Crowley relied on doctors at Mater Mothers’ Hospital in South Brisbane to do all they could to save their little Lavinia.

"Although Lavinia was fortunately one of the healthier babies, she required around-the-clock care in Mater's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for five weeks before we were able to bring her home," Mrs Crowley said.

"We spent every minute of every hour that we could watching over her humidicrib, and later open cot, to see that she was gaining strength and weight, as we were often anxious of losing her.”
"We are incredibly grateful for the doctors, nurses, and midwives at Mater who supported us and Lavinia through the difficult pregnancy and her early arrival. She's now a healthy, happy six-month old baby girl."

Mater Mothers’ Hospital Neocritical Care Unit's Associate Professor Luke Jardine told HealthTimes that resuscitating premature babies immediately after birth by using a device that delivers airway pressure through a small mask over their noses has reduced the need to insert breathing tubes into the tiny newborns.

“Using Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices has led to a 20 per cent reduction in the number of babies needing a breathing tube and a ventilator immediately after birth,” Professor Jardine said.

“This may result in an increase in these extremely premature babies surviving without lung disease.”

Associate Professor Jardine said the Mater team were also looking at the way premature babies were administered surfactant, a drug used to treat the lung disease of prematurity.

“Instead of inserting it via a breathing tube which is the way it has traditionally been done, we are now leaving the baby on CPAP and using a small catheter to administer it,” he said.

For Professor Jardine and his team, it is a privilege and deeply rewarding to care for the babies and their parents that come through the ward.

“The most rewarding thing is the families and seeing them get to take home a happy, healthy baby at the end of their journey, who otherwise, if it wasn't for the work that our team had done, they wouldn't survive.”

“We have a lot of babies who get admitted to our nursery – over 2000 at the Mater get admitted to the nursery every year.”

“And the vast majority of those babies do very, very well and have a really good long-term outcome. So that's the most rewarding thing, seeing a family take home a happy healthy baby”, Professor Jardine said.

Sadly, though, stories on the neonatal ward do not always have a happy ending.

“There’s no doubt that when [a baby doesn’t survive], it can be really tough.”

“And we have some really, really difficult days in the nursery where babies don't survive and we see how upset families get.”

“All our staff, we all feel it and we all get upset, but we deal with that by focusing on the positives”, Professor Jardine explained.

“Like I say, most of our babies do well. And we also focus on that, even though it's a terrible situation for some families, we can still give them a lot of comfort and support.”

“And while it won't be a positive experience in their baby dying, they can still get a lot of positives out of spending time with their baby and making memories and spending the final moments with their babies, having cuddles and that time with them.”

“So I think our team's amazing at that end of life care when we unfortunately need to do it.”

“I think the nurses, in particular, are amazing at providing this support and care, and make really strong connections with families. And they love the babies just as much as the parents do. And I think that's what helps, but also what makes it really hurt sometimes.”

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Charlotte Mitchell

Charlotte is a published journalist and editor, with 10 years of experience in developing high-quality content for national and international publications.

With an academic background in both science and communications, she specialises in medical and science writing. Charlotte is passionate about creating engaging, evidence-based content that equips the community with important information on issues around healthcare, medicine and research.

Over the years, she has partnered with organisations including the Medical Journal of Australia, Cancer Council NSW, Bupa, the Australasian Medical Publishing Company, Dementia Australia, MDA National, pharmaceutical companies, and state and federal government agencies, to produce high-impact news and clinical content  for different audiences.