At-risk babies coming to Red Deer

More premature babies are being transferred to the special care nursery at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

Rachelle Taylor of Red Deer holds her 13-day-old son Ethan in the Special Care Nursery at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre on Thursday. Taylor spent 11 weeks in the Royal Alexander Hospital antepartum unit prior to giving birth to Ethan six weeks premature. Having toured the Ronald McDonald House in Edmonton

More premature babies are being transferred to the special care nursery at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

Babies born at 20 weeks are treated at Edmonton or Calgary hospitals. But as they grow, Central Alberta preemies are mostly sent to the 17-bed nursery at Red Deer’s hospital.

“As soon as they hit 31 weeks or 32 weeks and things are stable, they want to send these families back down, but they’re still going to be here for another month before they go home. There’s a lot of kids like that,” said Red Deer pediatrician Dr. Mark Mahood.

Thanks to plans for a Ronald McDonald House in Red Deer, those fragile young lives will get more parental support to grow healthy and strong.

“A month period — that’s a 12th of your development in your first year of life. It’s a very critical time in your brain development. It’s really helpful to have the mother around for longer periods of time.”

Mahood said there’s evidence that seeing, hearing and connecting to a single person, rather than several different nurses, does impact development and healing rates.

Red Deer’s high-functioning nursery is prepared to provide the complex care that premature babies need.

“We have babies on ventilators for short terms. We give them total parenteral nutrition where you actually give nutrition through an IV route because some of these babies aren’t capable of feeding yet.”

A baby’s birth is an emotional and stressful time for parents and Ronald McDonald House will really advance care for children in Central Alberta, Mahood said.

Obstetrician Dr. Kevin Wiebe said the house will also help women with high-risk pregnancies and premature births, for example women who risk bleeding profusely because their placenta is very near or over the exit to the womb.

“There is no predictability when this bleeding would happen. They would require an emergency cesarean section for delivery,” he said.

Last summer, one of his patients temporarily relocated to Red Deer to ease her pregnancy risks.

“Her and her mother ended up staying in an RV trailer at the Westerner grounds. She would have been quite appropriate for Ronald McDonald House if there was one, especially in the winter.”

Wiebe said the rate of premature births is climbing in Canada and North America, mainly due to fertility treatments and multiple births, which means more babies are needing to stay in special care nurseries.

Red Deer’s hospital averaged 218 births per month for the 2008-09 fiscal year. The average has jumped to 235 so far this year.

“The recession really hasn’t affected the number of babies,” said Debbie Leitch, director for maternal child services.

The four-bed parents suite in pediatrics is full most of the time with moms breast-feeding babies and with 17 special nursery cribs, only a small portion of moms get to stay.

“I think having the opportunity for a Ronald McDonald House means maybe dad can stay, too.”

At one point, the hospital was looking at renting a two-bedroom house for parents, but the number of young patients has increased so much that an 11-suite Ronald McDonald House is warranted, Leitch said.

“Gone are the days when we used to try to shuffle moms and dads out of the unit at night time. Now we do everything we can to encourage the families to be with their children. That’s been proven again and again to give us the best outcomes for kids.

“The whole Ronald McDonald House concept is all about that. It’s all about how do we get the family as close to their children as they can be both for the benefit of the children and the family.”

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