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Legacy in the News: Caring for babies born prematurely

OPB, Think Out Loud

May 1, 2014

Think Out Loud has been discussing pregnancy and birth in conjunction with The World‘s series: The Ninth Month. Talk Out Loud explored the implications of the 12 percent of babies born prior to what’s considered full term (40 weeks).

Talk Out Loud talked to Patrick Lewallen, M.D., medical director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel and neonatologist with Northwest Newborn Specialists and Pediatrix Medical Group. Dr. Lewallen discussed some of the factors that lead to preterm births in the U.S. and how doctors talk with parents about the risks and benefits of life-saving interventions.

A mother of a premature baby shared her family’s birth story, son’s medical journey and the developmental issues he now faces as a child.

During the discussion Dr. Lewallen was asked how much concrete information we give to expectant mothers and fathers.

 Dr. Lewallen answered, “We have a lot of data for parents. We analyze our data and national data on a regular basis and look at survival rates and neurodevelopmental outcome rates for patients who are born quite early…At 24 to 26 weeks a baby’s risk of survival is 50-50 and gets better towards 26 weeks. Of the 50% who survive a significant number of them have neurodevelopmental compromises as they grow up.”

Dr. Lewallen discussed the work neonatologists have done in Portland, Oregon surrounding these conversations.

He emphasized, “We are proud of the work we are doing in Portland because we are ahead of the curve, as far as getting information to parents with objective data around it, so we really put the decision making in the hands of the parents. In Portland we have been able to have a conversation around this. We bring the data to the parents, talk to them about what this means for them, their lives and child and what they want for their family and their baby.”

Dr. Lewallen was asked about the challenges physicians deal with in bringing these little people along. Dr. Lewallen replied that the challenges are astronomical for families and for the medical team to get these babies through. The first step is to connect with families to understand their wants and desires. He added that a part of the spectrum of caring for babies is using our lifesaving technology.

Lastly, Dr. Lewallen was asked if he sees babies that have spunk. He responded that babies’ personalities are developed early on in the gestational period and there are babies who are much heartier, more resilient to disease and respond better to treatments.

Listen and read the entire story on OPB.

Contact: Maegan Vidal