Luella Viegas’ second pregnancy was going smoothly until she hit the 33-week milestone and was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a serious condition that affects nearly 80 percent of all pregnancies in the United States. Characterized by high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia may lead to dangerous – even fatal – complications for both the mother and her unborn child if left untreated.
Luella was admitted to the hospital where she was planning on delivering her baby, but with her new diagnosis, it was important for her to deliver at a hospital that also had a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“I was nervous about the health of my baby and I wanted to make sure that I was able to be at the same hospital as he was,” says Luella. “Instead of transporting him to a hospital with a NICU after he was born, I was happy I was going to a hospital where we could stay together.”
The Transport Program at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach provides a specialized team of maternal fetal specialists and registered nurses to help safely transport expectant mothers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Transported mothers stay in the Perinatal Special Care Unit where maternal fetal specialists, neonatologists and anesthesiologists are available in-house. Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach is one of the only hospitals in the region to offer a birthing center and NICU under the same roof.
One hour after she was transported, Luella delivered her son Mikhail. He was born weighing 3 lbs. 7 oz. and was immediately taken down the hall to Miller Children’s level III NICU. A level III NICU means that the unit must meet strict state regulatory criteria to provide the highest level of necessary care for very sick or premature infants. The team of dedicated physicians, nurses, therapists and other care team members are specially trained to care for the tiniest babies, like Mikhail.
Even though he was so little when he was born, Mikhail was healthy. He stayed in the NICU for six weeks to grow, until he was big enough to go home.
“We were so scared to handle him because he was so small, but the NICU care team helped us understand how to care for him,” says Luella. “I was able to breastfeed my first child for a full year and I wanted to do that with Mikhail, but I was unsure of how to do it since he was so small.”
Knowing the benefits that breast milk has for babies, especially preemies, the NICU has dedicated lactation consultants who also are registered nurses with many years of NICU experience. Breastfeeding can be a challenge when an infant is connected to ventilators and other machines. The NICU lactation consultants have helped many new moms successfully breastfeed their babies.
“The NICU lactation consultants were a huge support for me,” says Luella. “They helped me pump for the first three months and I was able to breastfeed him once a day from the time he was 5-weeks-old. I was able to accomplish my goal and breastfeed him for a whole year.”
Today, Mikhail is a “typical” 2-year-old boy. He loves playing outside and climbs on everything. He continues to receive follow-up care every six months to ensure he is healthy and developing on track.
“Mikhail is a handful,” says Luella. “But we are so blessed to have a happy and healthy little boy. We are so thankful for the great start he received at Miller Children’s.”