Helping preemies see at NHRMC

May 10, 2006
More than 130 premature babies born at New Hanover Regional Medical Center each year will benefit from the donation of a specialized camera that scans the retina for diseases that may cause blindness. The RetCam II, purchased with funds raised by the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Foundation, was put into service for the first time earlier this month at NHRMC. This diagnostic camera generates high-resolution, wide-angle images of the eye and detects the presence and severity of Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) in infants. It will be used primarily in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, but can also help others who need retina examinations. “The risk of blindness associated with prematurity is a very real fear for our families,” said Barbara Buechler, director of women’s and children’s services at NHRMC. “The addition of the RetCam into our ROP screening program will improve outcomes for our babies and decrease one source of anxiety for our families. We truly appreciate the vision and generosity of the Foundation for demonstrating its support for infants and families through the purchase of the RetCam.” Up to 80 percent of preemies weighing less than 2 pounds at birth are at risk of developing ROP. This is a condition caused by an overgrowth of blood vessels in the retina. If recognized in the early stages, ROP can be treated successfully with laser surgery. Without access to a RetCam, physicians literally have to hand-draw a picture of what they see when they are examining a baby’s eyes. The RetCam provides clear digital images that can be saved and used for comparison to determine if there have been changes in the eye between scans. “Each one of the babies screened for ROP gets a minimum of two, but often at least three or more exams, depending on whether they develop the disease and what treatment is provided,” said Dr. Fernando Moya of Coastal AHEC, who is medical director of the NICU at New Hanover Regional. “Being able to send these digital images to specialists not available in Wilmington will give us additional options for those in need in our region of the state.” Racheal Parrish, of Jacksonville, knows the importance of having resources such as the RetCam available in Southeastern North Carolina. She was admitted to NHRMC back in March with complications during her pregnancy. She delivered baby Jenna Rose at only 28 weeks and four days compared to the normal 40 weeks of pregnancy. The tiny three-pound preemie has needed lots of special care since she arrived on April 12, 2006, including screening for ROP. “We are very fortunate to be here and have this place. I could not have asked for better care,” said Parrish, who is “nesting” with her daughter in the Neonatal Transitional Unit as she learns to take care of the infant and the medical equipment that will go home with her. “She’s the patient, but they also make sure I’m taken care of too. It’s like a family. It’s beyond my expectations.” More to come at NHRMCThe addition of the RetCam is just one of many changes coming for women and children’s health care in Southeastern North Carolina. As part of the region’s largest expansion of medical facilities, NHRMC began construction earlier this year on a new freestanding Women’s and Children’s Center located on its main campus. The plans for the $44 million, 149-bed facility were developed with leading national consultants and architects as well as area physicians and hospital staff. The center will house all existing women’s and children’s services including the Family Birthplace, gynecological inpatient services, Neonatal Intensive Care and Transitional Units as well as the pediatric inpatient unit and specialty clinics. A six-bed Pediatric Intensive Care Unit will also be added to help close the gap in medical services for families of sick children in the region. When the building opens in 2008, even children with critical medical and surgical needs will be able to receive care in their home community so parents will not have to arrange for transportation and overnight lodging at hospitals hours away. The new women’s and children’s center will have all private rooms and will feature family areas for siblings to play or families to have respite between visits with their child. There will also be a gift shop and dining. U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre has praised hospital leadership for its compassion, commitment and cooperation in planning the expansion. “You are at the forefront of making folks here a little bit better, or in some cases, a whole lot better,” Rep. McIntyre said. “You are making an investment that will augment, supplement and propel the quality of life everyone’s rushing to move here for. You are giving people hope for a better tomorrow.” For the families of the 3,900 babies born each year at NHRMC, these new facilities and new technologies such as the RetCam add an important level of care to the services available in this region.