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NICU expands at Rockdale Medical Center
Peinese Smith and baby Demijai Smith prepare to leave the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Demijai, Smith's second child, stayed a week in the NICU to monitor breathing problems.

Rockdale Medical Center is set to grow again in order to help its tiniest patients.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit will soon increase from eight intensive care beds to 16 in a $5.7 million phased expansion project slated to start March 2012 and finish in the first quarter of 2013.

Beemal Shah, RMC's Chief Operating Officer, said, "We've been approaching maximum capacity in the last couple years. We wanted to go from eight beds to 16 so we could serve the needs of our community."

"We want them to be able to down the hall, not go down I-20," added hospital spokesperson Marsha Terry.

The hospital sees about 2,000 births a year and about a 200 of those per year spend time in the NICU, which started 11 years ago with just a couple of beds in a corner.

Shah said in expansion planning there would be a focus on using environmental elements to create a more efficient, healthier work space. The expansion, which will be phased to allow the NICU to continue operating, will give the unit access to windows for natural lighting.

NICU Nurse Manager Inez Young Wiggs said, "The families will have more space with their babies, and the really sick babies will have their own private rooms." The expansion will also make it easier for the nurses to navigate the unit to do their work.

Daniella White Staley's experience at the NICU made such an impression she decided she wanted to go into neonatal nursing.

Staley's son Noah was born at 26 weeks old last year and weighed just 1 pound, 12 ounces. The tiny preemie's skin was translucent and his ears had not yet separated from his head. A blood vessel that normally routs blood past the lungs while in the uterus had not closed as it was supposed to after he was born.

He spent almost three months in the NICU and ended up needing surgery at Children's Healthcare at Egleston for a Patent ductus arteriosus ligation.

"From the start it was very scary," said Staley. "But right away, the NICU embraced us. They nurtured him. All the nurses there, I considered them his mamas," said Staley.

The mother of four had been in a NICU before when her oldest son, now 21, was born a week premature.

"Nursing has always been my passion since I was a little girl. I knew that's what I wanted to be," she said. Originally, she was interested in going into OB-GYN, but after her experience with Noah, she's looking into becoming a NICU nurse instead.

She's currently going to school for medical assisting and is looking at the nursing program at Emory or Gwinnett Tech. Previously she had worked on Wall Street in New York and moved to Georgia with her husband and family in 2003 after surviving Sept. 11.

RMC applied for a certificate of need for the expansion this spring and was recently approved by the state Department of Community Health.

Rockdale Medical Center, a 138-bed acute care hospital, was purchased in 2009 by LifePoint Hospitals, which owns community and non-urban hospitals across the country.