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Small Babies At Sacred Heart Get A Huge Gift

Bob Barrett

Some small patients with big medical needs got a major investment this week. WUWF’s Bob Barrett reports. “Today we’re here to celebrate a generous contribution of $2.5 million for our children and their families that we serve,” said Carol Carlan, president of the Sacred Heart Foundation. “And in recognition of that, it’s our honor and privilege to name the region’s only level 3 NICU, neonatal intensive care unit, after Pediatrix Medical Group.”

The neonatal intensive care unit at The Studer Family Children’s Hospital opened for patients on May 4, and today houses 61 babies in need of care. The Pediatrix Medical Group began in South Florida and has grown into a national practitioner. It has been part of the Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital since the 1990s.

“As you know, when babies are born most of the time everything goes great, but sometimes there are challenges,” said Dr. Ramak Amjad, the medical director for the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.  “The baby could have an infection, the baby could be born early, there could be other abnormalities that could happen that require the baby to have special needs or special care that can’t be in a regular nursery out in a community hospital. So we pull all those babies from the whole region across the Panhandle, from Tallahassee all the way over to Mobile, and from southern Alabama to the Gulf and we provide services for them. So we’re really a NICU for a big city stretched out over 700 miles.”

Dr. Amjad says that in addition to low weight, premature babies, he sees a lot of children born with complications from having an opioid-addicted mother. “Between seven and 10 percent of our children here are drug-exposed. And then you have babies that have genetic abnormalities or malformations (that) require surgery. We have a wonderful surgical team here with Dr. Weidner and Dr. Papic who do an excellent job.” Dr. Amjad says they also have specialists for neurosurgery, pediatric ear, nose and throat, and maxillofacial surgery. "So we have a wonderful set of sub-specialists.” 

Credit Bob Barrett / WUWF
The $2.5 million gift will help support the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), which currently cares for 61 babies.

One of the biggest differences in this new unit is the space for families. Each baby has their own room, and each room is equipped with a space for parents to sleep and stay with their child around the clock. There is also a parent’s lounge with a kitchen and some quiet, private places for family members to relax. Carol Carlan says it gives parents a chance to be with their children during their treatment. 

“If you think about it, where would those families go in order to have this care? They would (have to) go many, many miles out of this region in order to care for (their) child. And think of the tiniest babies. The further away they get the more difficult it is for them to survive. So, we’ve had a lot of miracles happen here!”

And looking ahead, Carlan says the next project the foundation is taking on is a new unit for children with cancer. “We’re going to open a 12-bed pediatric oncology unit, and the family can actually stay with the child (in the unit). These are children sometimes with us 8, 9 10, 12 months battling cancer. It will have a family room, it will have a work-out area, it will have a kitchen, so that we can put the families in an environment, during this very difficult time, in a family setting, as if they were at home.”

The Bear Family Foundation is partnering with the Sacred Heart Foundation on that pediatric oncology unit. They hope to have that open by the end of 2020. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.