Neonatal services offer hope to parents

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Rylan's story: Tiny newborn defies enormous odds

Premature birth is something many expecting parents worry about. While in most cases there is no real cause for concern, at just 15 weeks along in her pregnancy, Casey, already a mom to three boys, began to show signs that premature birth was a possibility.

Terrified that something was wrong, Casey went to the emergency room. Doctors determined that she was dilated to five centimeters and they stopped the contractions. After a few weeks on bed rest, doctors knew she would not carry her little boy to full term. At just 22 weeks and 5 days gestational age, little Rylan entered the world weighing in at just 1 pound.

"The most fearful part was feeling as if I was alone and no one understood. Hearing that doctors were unsure of Rylan's 'unknown and uncertainty of survival' was the scariest," said Casey.

Since Rylan was so young when he was born and his little body didn't have all the time needed to grow, he had several health problems. After just a few days, it became clear that he needed special care. He was transferred to Nationwide Children's Hospital, where Rylan was among the youngest patients cared for in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Shortly after arriving, Rylan underwent several surgeries to repair and remedy problems including an underdeveloped heart valve, a hole in his bowel and optometric issues with both of his eyes.

Five months after he was born and weighing about 6 pounds, Rylan was able to go home for the first time. "It was scary but gave us the much-needed opportunity to adjust as a family," recalled Casey. "The value of life is immeasurable. We found strength in places we never knew existed and that's what it takes to realize that little miracles can and do happen-but first you have to believe."

Today, Rylan is 9 1/2 months old and continues to grow and make great progress. He weighs about 12 pounds and will soon undergo another surgery to correct his bowel. He visits the Neonatal Developmental Clinic every two to three weeks so specialists can work on bringing his developmental skills up to those of his peers.

"As a family, we want to thank the medical staff at Nationwide Children's who helped oversee the care of Rylan," Casey said. "His success is your success, too."

PEDIATRIC ADVANCEMENTS: Neonatal Developmental Clinic services youngest of patients

To those unfamiliar with premature birth, it's not uncommon to think once the baby leaves the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), his or her treatment is finished. Unfortunately, those born prematurely often face a long road of treatment and care after leaving the NICU. At Nationwide Children's Hospital, experts in the Neonatal Developmental Clinic work with former NICU infants to ensure these little ones are on track for healthy and happy lives.

It's a great milestone for former NICU patients to go home for the first time. Unfortunately, developmental issues like growth, cognitive mental ability and motor skill delays often don't present themselves until the babies get a bit older-especially in those patients born at 32 weeks gestational age and younger.

"Infants are being born and surviving at much younger gestational ages. The smallest babies that are able to survive are as much as 4 months early and weigh only 1 pound. The brains of these infants are still developing and are very prone to injury and abnormal development in the newborn period. It is vital that they have close monitoring of the growth of both their body and brain as measured by weight and head circumference, not only in the NICU but after they are discharged to home," said Chris Timan, MD, medical director of the Neonatal Developmental Clinic at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

To track their development, these young patients are frequently asked to come in for their first visit two weeks after being discharged from the NICU. Through a battery of tests and screenings, the specialists at the Neonatal Development Clinic work with the patient's pediatrician to address any health or developmental concerns. During subsequent follow-up visits, the developmental staff works to bring these pre-term infants up to the developmental level of their full-term peers.

FAST FACTS

Learning about premature birth

  • An infant born at 37 weeks or earlier is considered premature.
  • Moms-to-be can help lower their risk of premature delivery by abstaining from smoking, drinking alcohol and using drugs; eating well; limiting physical stress and receiving adequate prenatal care.
  • Occasionally, there are issues beyond control, such as a hormone imbalance, a structural abnormality of the uterus, or a chronic illness that can cause premature birth.
  • Premature infants who weigh 500 grams (a little more than 1 pound) have a 40 to 50 percent chance of survival compared to those weighing 800 grams (almost 2 pounds), who have a 90 percent chance of survival.