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Saving truly little ones

BY HOLLY HINES | NOVEMBER 20, 2009 7:21 AM

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During the first few days of Aebry Caughron’s life, her tiny hand could barely fit around her mother’s pinky fingernail.

But during a checkup at the UI Hospitals and Clinics on Wednesday, the now active 8-month-old sat curiously, looking around the doctor’s office, easily grasping her mother’s entire finger.

Doctors delivered the 1-pound, 8-ounce Aebry at the UIHC on March 8, around three months before doctors expected her to arrive. Shelley Caughron, her 34-year-old mother, found out she would meet her fifth child early just a week before going into labor.

“That first week was very scary,” she said as she held her daughter on her lap. The baby wore an oxygen tube to help her breathe, but after the appointment, she was able to go home tubeless and breathing on her own for a one-month trial period.

Aebry is one of the approximately 600 babies the UIHC’s Neonatal Intensive-Care Unit treats each year, according to the department’s website. Since the facility opened in 1974, the hospital has treated more than 15,000 babies, around 40 percent of whom were transferred from other hospitals.

While many are born with life-threatening conditions, the survival rate of all premature babies treated at the UIHC is more than 95 percent.

Aebry has grown and developed with few complications since she went home to Waterloo earlier than anticipated after roughly three months in the hospital — in part because she never got an infection.

The neonatal unit has gone without a central-line-associated bloodstream infection for more than a year, said Jonathan Klein, the department’s medical director.

Central-line infections are severe and put babies at a greater risk of death, and the lack of them at the UIHC lately is likely due to officials’ increased efforts to maintain a sterile environment, he said.

It’s common for such neonatal facilities to treat one such infection each month, he said.

Even with the achievement, Iowa received a D from a recently released March of Dimes 2009 Premature Birth Report Card for its 11.6 percent preterm birthrate — roughly 4 percent over the nation’s objective percentage.

Most other states received a D as well, and no state received an A, according to the report.

Klein said the grade looked at statistics, not the quality of care doctors and nurses provide for babies born prematurely. The UIHC has 12 neonatologists in addition to nurse practitioners and volunteers.

Shelley credits UIHC doctors for being able to bring her baby home.

Though she had no infections, Aebry underwent surgery at three weeks when a heart valve that should close on its own failed to seal, threatening to flood her lungs with blood. Doctors had to open the baby’s chest when she weighed only 1 pound, 3 ounces.

“When you’re looking at a baby that’s the size of your hand, and her heart is the size of a nickel … it’s a scary, scary day,” Caughron said.

After the successful surgery, Shelley Caughron stayed in Iowa City to look after her daughter for two months. Her husband, Matt Caughron, took care of their four sons while she was away.

He said having Aebry home early was amazing, adding it was a bit nerve-wracking at first.

“The staff and the doctors at the [neonatal unit] are worth every cent that they earn,” he said.


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