CAMP LEJEUNE (NNS) -- Since 2013, Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune’s (NMCCL) Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) has stood at the ready to care for some of NMCCL’s smallest patients.
The Navy’s only Level II NICU has recently surpassed the 1,200 patient mark. This milestone is a proud moment for NMCCL and the NICU team, explained Neonatologist CDR Caleb Podraza, beyond the continued compassionate and dedicated care provided by his team to so many infants.
Many hospitals do not have NICU capabilities, which means babies born prematurely or at term with complications have to be moved to facilities with the ability to care for them at a higher level.
“This has an exponential effect on the community. There are small cities in America that have populations of less than 1,200; we’ve taken care of more than a small city of patients that were born prematurely,” said Podraza. “It is not just the impact on those 1,200 babies. It is the impact on their brothers and their sisters, their moms and their dads, their grandparents. It has an exponential effect on our community and then on the Marine Corps community; the readiness issue. The economics. All of it. It is a fantastic accomplishment.”
The birth rate at NMCCL is just about 2,000 babies born a year, with 10-15 percent born premature or at term with complications requiring a level of care beyond a newborn nursery or Level 1 NICU, said Podraza.
A NICU was a necessity for the medical center.
“The birth of your child is both the most exciting and the most frightening experience in any young couple's life," said Commanding Officer CAPT Jeffrey Timby. "It is very comforting to know that such a professional and capable team of neonatal specialists is available to ensure the best care is provided when things get complicated. Bravo Zulu on a job well done – 1,200 times!”
NMCCL’s NICU is able to care for nine babies at a time directly within the unit. A typical Level II NICUs take babies as young as 32 weeks and 1,500 grams (3.25 lbs.) of weight.
NMCCL’s NICU, while a Level II, has been caring for patients as young as 30 weeks and 1,500 grams.
The lowered minimum age means NMCCL’s team, which consists of four neonatologists, seven neonatal nurse practitioners, 17 RNs and two hospitalmen (HN), is able to care for more infants, said Podraza.
“I lowered our requirements because there were still a fair number of babies we were transferring out that I felt we could safely take care of,” he said. “We’ve been able to do that for the last two plus years successfully.”
A Level II NICU still has restrictions as to their capabilities; when an infant requires a higher level of care, they must be transferred to another facility such as Vidant Medical Center or New Hanover Regional Medical Center which are Level III NICUs.
The length of stay within NMCCL’s NICU is four weeks, said Podraza, but that can be extended or shortened based on the baby’s age at birth and basic overall health, making NMCCL’s NICU that much more important to new families with babies requiring a NICU stay.
“As you can imagine that’s a tremendous burden,” said Podraza. “They [the Marines] serve an important role to the Marine Corps community so they need to be at work every day and now they are struggling with those challenges of commuting back and forth to see their baby for weeks at a time.”
NMCCL’s NICU has helped nearly 200 babies a year since 2013 stay close to their families while they grow and gain strength to go home.
To continue expanding the capabilities of the NICU,there is a focus on continued educational programs and opportunities, said Podraza, as well as taking the steps to implement a tele-echocardiology program.
This program would allow staff here at NMCCL to perform echocardiograms on infants then send the images to a pediatric cardiologist at a remote location such as Portsmouth Regional Hospital, or Womack Army Medical Center, to read and provide guidance to the child’s care without having to move the child to a higher level NICU.
“If we can find ways to expand our capabilities to decrease the amount of babies we transfer out, I think that’s a way, a good future goal,” said Podraza.
For more news from Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune, visit www.navy.mil/local/nhcl/.