An estimated one in every 10 babies is born too early each year. Born before 37 weeks of gestation, these pre-term babies are at an increased risk of facing developmental problems and disorders later in life. During Prematurity Awareness Month, observed in November, healthcare institutions and organisations worldwide focus on raising awareness about the challenges associated with pre-term birth. Burjeel facilities are equipped with experienced specialists and advanced technology to offer compassionate care to help pre-term babies recover from before-term birth. The neonatal units in these facilities follow a holistic approach and work in tandem with other specialties to ensure all pre-term babies receive optimum care. Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi, and Burjeel Medical City, Mohammed Bin Zayed City, are frontrunners in providing medical and surgical services that foster optimal development in pre-term infants. These facilities marked Prematurity Awareness Month with a unique programme for the special little patients and their parents to reiterate their commitment towards pre-term babies.
Dr. Govinda Shenoy, Consultant Neonatologist at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi, is an experienced specialist who has treated hundreds of pre-term babies in his career. According to him, Burjeel Hospital is equipped with the full spectrum of level three neonatal intensive care technologies, including incubators, specialised ventilators, monitors, transport equipment for moving babies, therapeutic body cooling machines, and inhaled nitric oxide gas delivery systems.
“Burjeel Hospital’s Neonatal ICU is a level three NICU, equipped to care for all pre-term babies who have completed 24 weeks of gestation and above. We have a stellar team of NICU doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists who are all highly trained and experienced in the field of neonatology. We use advanced technology and equipment to manage our pre-term babies with the latest non-invasive techniques practiced by many of the best neonatal units. Our goal is to discharge our pre-term babies from our unit without any complications, so that they can continue to grow with normal development,” says Dr. Shenoy.
Several factors can cause premature birth, including infection, multiple pregnancies, chronic diseases in the mother, or even intentional early delivery, occasioned by a need to intervene for maternal or baby reasons. According to Dr. Shenoy, there are however, a significant number of premature births for which no obvious explanation is available. “There is likely to be a genetic component to a few of the recurring premature births, but research continues in a bid to throw more light on this issue,” he adds.
The team of experts at Burjeel Hospital and Burjeel Medical City make every effort to ensure that mothers who have previously had a premature birth, get the best care. These mothers are advised to seek antenatal care early on in their subsequent pregnancy to ensure that they are adequately monitored for possible indicators of another premature birth.
Babies born prematurely are at risk of several short, medium, or long-term complications, depending on the degree of prematurity. Pre-term babies must follow up with neonatologists and paediatricians for several months or years. According to Dr. Iviano Ossuetta, Consultant Neonatologist at Burjeel Medical City and Director of Neonatology Services - Burjeel Farha Women and Children’s Services, with proper support and follow-up, many of these babies are able to do very well in the long term. Meanwhile, those with complications who receive early intervention, are able to optimise their potential for development.
“Premature newborns are at risk of complications affecting a number of organs, including the brain, eyes, heart, lungs, intestines, and liver. They may also occasionally suffer complications of their bone structure. Complications affecting the brain are serious as they can impact their ability to engage within family units and wider society actively,” says Dr. Ossuetta.
Burjeel Medical City stands out for its high-quality and holistic family-centered care. The neonatal department at the hospital operates as a multi-disciplinary unit with doctors and nurses working together as one team to provide the care that premature babies and their families require.
“As part of our care provision, we look after babies who are completely well after birth, right through to babies with serious illnesses, requiring specialised intensive care from many specialists. These may include surgeons and paediatricians with specialised skills across the spectrum of conditions and affected organ systems. In addition, our unit works very closely with our sister units across the Burjeel Farha Women and Children’s Service in the group to ensure that access to high-level intensive care for babies is easily obtained by all babies who are referred to us. This approach ensures that newborns throughout the group receive optimum care,” says Dr. Ossuetta.
The level three neonatal intensive care service at Burjeel Medical City has access to support from many paediatric subspecialists in neurology, cardiology, gastroenterology, paediatric surgery, neurosurgery, orthopaedics and ophthalmology, all under one roof. According to Dr. Musaddaq Inayat, Consultant Neonatologist at Burjeel Medical City, the neonatal unit also has access to additional expertise from the paediatric intensive care unit.
“Our colleagues are establishing a paediatric ECMO service in Burjeel Medical City. This service will greatly improve access to this highly needed and specialised service. We also have a close relationship with the palliative care service for babies, who unfortunately have conditions that are lethal or have no cure,” says Dr. Inayat.
Besides the intensive and specialised medical care provided to babies admitted to Burjeel Medical City, the hospital offers extensive assessment and therapy services to all its premature babies via the Burjeel Rehabilitation Service at Burjeel Medical City. According to Dr. Inayat, the rehabilitation service ensures that all premature babies receive appropriate and early intervention via physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech-language therapy, whilst in the hospital and at follow-up after discharge.
The neonatal units at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi and Burjeel Medical City practice a family-centered care programme. “We actively involve parents in caring for their baby from the moment we are introduced to them, even before birth. This is a key component of our practice ethos. As a part of this, we maintain a stable and transparent communication channel with all parents and keep them updated on their baby’s progress and any identified or anticipated issues,” says Dr. Inayat.
A Joyful Reunion
To mark Prematurity Awareness Month, these facilities held a unique programme that was attended by 30-40 families and their children who were born pre-term. Members of the neonatal unit got the opportunity to interact with the babies they had forged a special bond with during their stay at the hospital. Parents also recalled their journeys through pre-term birth and the care received at these facilities.
A Miraculous Recovery
Due to severe hypertension in his mother, a baby boy was born to Filipino parents at the very early gestational age of 25 weeks. At the time of his birth, weighing only 580 grams, he was no bigger than the palm of a hand and his chances of survival were 50:50. The medical team, led by Dr. Govinda Shenoy, managed the baby’s condition for 102 days. They avoided infections, kept the baby warm and provided nutrition and support for breathing until his lungs could develop their function. The baby has now grown into a healthy five-year-old. Dr. Shenoy makes it a point to keep in contact with the parents of all his pre-term babies for five to eight years to assess their development.
Overcoming A Spinal Defect
A baby boy born to Emirati parents at 36+1 weeks of pregnancy, with a birth weight of 2.126 kg, was diagnosed with a large defect in the spine requiring surgical intervention. Led by Dr. Mohamed Elzogby, Consultant, Neurosurgery, the team at Burjeel Medical City wanted to prevent the open defect from becoming infected, as this could lead to brain infection. As the baby was pre-term, the team needed to plan carefully for the procedure with the neurosurgeon, as most such cases are generally done on babies who have reached full maturity. The initial surgery was successfully completed. The baby was discharged in good condition and will continue to follow up.