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NICU busy with babies
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Saturday morning, Presley Raegen Neely came into the world two months early. Her crib hadn’t even been delivered to her parents’ home yet, nor had her scheduled baby showers occurred.

Presley’s parents, Clint and Jennifer Neely, can hold their 3-pound-6-ounce newborn once a day in the warm, dark, beeping safety of the new neonatal intensive care unit at Newton Medical Center.

Since Newton Medical’s NICU opened in March, they have treated 42 newborns with a variety of medical conditions.

"We’ve increased the standard of care to meet the community’s needs," said Tammy Hotz, clinical manager and registered nurse.

Hotz explained that the first week after the unit opened, employees treated two full-term newborns with cardiac defects and one with a congenital defect. The babies were able to be stabilized at a more expert level than before the unit existed and then were transported to medical centers in Atlanta for surgery.

"That’s why we’re here," Hotz said. "To help babies get the best start they can have."

In the Neely’s case, Jennifer had struggled with preeclampsia throughout her pregnancy and when she came in for her 32-week check up Thursday, her potassium and calcium levels were down while her blood pressure was soaring around 200/120.

Jennifer said doctors and nurses explained every step of the emergency C-section they were about to perform and answered every question she and Clint had.

"My OB and the nurses have been phenomenal," Jennifer said.

The stress of having their first child was amplified by having steroid shots administered to enhance the baby’s lung development.

"Fifty years ago, the baby and the mom would have died," Clint said.

Hotz said that before March, Newton Medical doctors would have had to transport the baby to a better equipped hospital.

Born Saturday morning, Presley now sleeps swaddled in an incubator with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) to remind her to breathe. Although she will likely have to stay in the NICU for roughly two months, Presley’s feeding volumes have increased each day she has been at the hospital and her progress meeting certain criteria could see her home earlier.

"We’re praying we have her home by the Fourth of July," Jennifer said, adding they have a big family gathering every year on the holiday and that Presley would be the center of attention this year rather than the fireworks.

Presley’s neighbor in the NICU, Shanterris Jordan, was born at 28 weeks also because of complications from preeclampsia.

"I had been having trouble breathing, like with bronchitis, and I had a rough night that night," said Shanterris’ mother, Shekita Usher. "In the morning I called the doctor and he told me to come in."

After an emergency C-section, Shanterris was born on April 29. She is the second smallest baby the NICU has seen to date, but seems to be making good progress according to the unit’s staff.

Shekita was released from the hospital after a week. Jennifer, who is still admitted to the hospital, said preeclampsia can affect mothers for up to six weeks after birth. She said she is not in a hurry to be released though.

"I don’t want to go home," Jennifer said. "It’s nice to just hang a right to see her."

Parents are encouraged by a beaming staff to visit their baby as often as possible as well as to bond with other parents whose children are receiving treatment from the unit.

"It’s fun to share your story," Jennifer said, "and you feel like you’re not alone."

The medical team of NMC’s NICU is headed by neonatologist Leslie Leigh, who completed his residency and fellowship at Emory University School of Medicine. Associate neonatologists working in the unit are Dan Suskin, Riad Al-Sayed Ahmed and Ralanisamy Rajasekaran, who are all certified with the American Board of Pediatrics, Neonatology and Perinatology.

While many businesses and industries have had to cut staff due to the declining economy, NMC was able to hire 15 new employees to staff the NICU – largely due to the fundraising efforts of Newton Medical’s Auxiliary Board, who held events to raise money for the delicate equipment needed in the unit.

"We wanted to offer these services to Newton County," Hotz said, "so residents don’t have to go out of the county."

For more information about NMC’s neonatal intensive care unit, call (770) 385-4182.