When a pregnant Charlene Chambers realized her baby boy would arrive 12 weeks early, she responded with alarm.
“It was disbelief, it was shock,” said the Victoria mother of two.
Her only comfort was that she and baby Asher, born weighing just two pounds and 12 ounces, could receive care close to home at Victoria General Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
The quality of that care increased today for premature newborns like Asher, thanks to two new convertible incubators, announced Thursday by the Victoria Hospitals Foundation.
Open Care Units transform from closed incubators with regulated heat and humidity to open units, giving caregivers easy access to the baby. It means fragile newborns no longer need to be moved between two spaces, which can be disruptive.
“For the very, very immature babies — the really, really tiny ones — it can be invaluable,” neonatalist Adele Harrison said of the new technology. “The more you handle them, the more they’re unable to regulate themselves.”
Some babies are born as early as 24 weeks, she said, making them extremely sensitive to movement.
“Moving them is quite significant,” Harrison said.
The new units were purchased thanks to a $123,000 donation by Variety — the Children’s Charity, which has donated more than $1 million to the Victoria Hospitals Foundation since 1996.
Victoria General Hospital is one of only three locations in the province with a Level 3 NICU. It gives a wide range of advanced care to the tiniest and sickest infants, treating about 500 premature or critically ill newborns from across the province each year.
In the five weeks since his birth, baby Asher has continued to gain strength and has graduated to Level 2 NICU. Had they been available, Harrison said, he would have been a candidate to use the Open Care Units.
Chambers said she knew there might be problems at the birth.
“I had had surgery at 18 weeks where I almost lost him. So we had a little bit of preparation,” she said.
“I actually looked into the NICU here and saw that it was a Level 3 and that kind of gave me a little bit of peace because I knew we wouldn’t have to travel. We wouldn’t have to go anywhere to get this care.”
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