Innovation

Treating the Tiniest Patients

New Neuro-NICU Program offers specialized care for babies suffering from neurological complications


By Amanda Stein | August 25, 2014

Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital recently announced their new Neuro-Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (Neuro-NICU) Program, the first of its kind in Houston, with five new amplitude-integrated EEG (aEEG) machines, and a highly-trained staff of nurses and physicians. The unit will be equipped to care for newborn babies suffering from neurological complications.

“Timing is critical when it comes to these cases and we strongly believe that with access to this cutting-edge clinical technology, we will be able to deliver a higher quality level of care to this very specific neonatal patient population, faster than ever before,” explained Nicole Francis, clinical director of Neonatal Services at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.

The unit’s new technology allows staff to monitor the tiny patients’ brain activity in real time, for more than 24 hours if needed, unlike a regular EEG machine, which is only capable of short-term monitoring of the brain’s spontaneous electrical activity.

“This around-the-clock, uninterrupted monitoring system will allow for the delivery of faster, better data which will lead to faster, more accurate diagnoses and, therefore, speedier treatment options provided by our team of expert pediatric neurologists and neurosurgeons,” said Dr. Gretchen Von Allmen, director of the Pediatric Epilepsy Program at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and assistant professor at UTHealth Medical School.

Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital has also long had the capability for whole-body cooling, which lowers the body temperature of babies suffering from hypoxia, relieving stress on the brain, and saving brain cells.

“The community is really good about referring babies here in under six hours so that we can initiate our cooling therapy,” said Francis. “Outlying hospitals are good about getting the babies here because they know we have this technology. So for the community, this Neuro-NICU Program should mean an extra layer of protection, extra monitoring, and hopefully improved outcomes for the babies.”

The Neuro-NICU team was immediately put to the test, when a baby was brought in on their first day of operations. Baby Morris was believed to be suffering from birth asphyxia, from complications with the umbilical cord during delivery. For oxygen-deprived babies, monitoring and treatment must begin within six hours of delivery to reduce damage to the brain.

Thankfully, after careful monitoring in the Neuro-NICU, Morris was given a clean bill of health. But for the team behind the program, it reinforced their mission, and the need for the training and technology to respond quickly to possible neurological complications.

“As one of the first hospitals in the nation to use whole-body hypothermia for newborns suffering from birth hypoxia, our team has been leading the way in research and technology in the field of neuro-neonatology for many years,” said Susie Distefano, chief executive officer of Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. “Now with the addition of our new 24-hour Neuro-NICU monitoring program, we are continuing to refine and speed medical treatment for these complex cases by improving upon the already advanced level of care we have available to these tiny patients, delivering the best possible results.”




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