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 beyond the continued compassionate and dedicated care provided by the team to so many infants, said Neonatologist Cmdr. Caleb Podraza.
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,” Podraza said. “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 to 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 Capt. Jeffrey Timby, commanding officer of NMCCL. “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 born at 32 weeks and weighing 1,500 grams (3.25 pounds). NMCCL’s NICU, while a Level II, has been caring for patients born at 30 weeks and weighing 1,500 grams.
The lowered minimum age means NMCCL’s team, which consists of four neonatologists, seven neonatal nurse practitioners, 17 registered nurses and two hospitalmen (HN), is able to care for more infants, Podraza said.
“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,” Podraza said. “We’ve been able to do that for the last two plus years successfully.”
A Level II NICU still has restrictions as to capabilities. When an infant requires a higher level of care, the child must be transferred to another facility such as Vidant Medical Center in Greenville or New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, both of 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 an NICU stay.
“As you can imagine that’s a tremendous burden,” Podraza said.
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 to expand the capabilities of the NICU, a focus is on continued educational programs and opportunities, Podraza said, as well as taking the steps to implement a tele-echocardiology program. This program would allow staff at NMCCL to perform echocardiograms on infants and send the images as a pediatric cardiologist at a remote location such as Portsmouth Regional Hospital in Virginia, or Womack Army Medical Center in Fayetteville, 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,” Podraza said.
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