On a recent Friday, Google Doodle honored René Favaloro, an Argentinian surgeon who invented the coronary artery bypass procedure. Favaloro’s breakthrough came in May 1967 at the Cleveland Clinic when he used the saphenous vein to bypass an obstructed segment of the artery. This technique radically altered the course of medical history — and changed the lives of millions.
We bring this up to highlight a truism: Medicine is always moving forward. New techniques, approaches, best practices, and eureka-moment breakthroughs drive the profession into the future. This is absolutely true when it comes to advances in neonatal care and neonatal nursing.
Still, some of the most significant advances in neonatal care come not from surgical procedures but from modifications and improvements in patient contact. These advances mean that every day, our most vulnerable patients have a better chance of not just surviving — but thriving.
We can thank neonatal nurses for their constant good work on the front lines of neonatal care. Neonatal nurses have helped implement many of the advances in the practice of medicine in general and neonatal care in particular.
In fact, according to the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, survival rates for vulnerable babies — for example, low-birth-weight infants — are 10 times better than just 15 years ago.
Neonatal nurses work with newborn infants and toddlers, typically through age 2. They provide primary and critical care, among a host of other responsibilities. Often, the newborns in their care have entered the world beset with problems, such as birth defects, prematurity, or cardiac malformations.
It’s this last category of neonatal problems that drives many advances at the Pediatric Cardiology Center of Oregon (PCCO). For more than 30 years, PCCO’s pediatric heart program has pioneered important treatments for congenital heart disease.
PCCO surgeons performed the first Norwood procedure for hypoplastic left heart syndrome in Oregon. They also performed the first arterial switch operation for transposition of the great arteries.
However, nonsurgical advances in neonatal care have been just as vital to the health and wellbeing of our patients. The interesting thing is that many of these advances are really just a back-to-basics approach. We thought we’d highlight a few of them.
This method involves holding a baby using skin-to-skin contact. The infant is placed upright against a parent’s bare chest. As the Cleveland Clinic describes it, “This snuggling of the infant inside the pouch of their parent’s shirt, much like a kangaroo’s pouch, led to the creation of the term ‘kangaroo care.’”
Generations of parents have utilized this method instinctively, but in recent years clinical studies have begun to prove its effectiveness.
According to a study published by the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN), “Skin-to-skin contact between mother and infant … has demonstrated efficacy as a pain-relieving strategy for infants, yet, it remains underutilized in clinical practice.”
Skin-to-skin contact, in general, is extremely important for neonatal patients. UNICEF asked delegates to a Neonatal Conference to share ideas on improving care for sick and preterm babies. One of the suggestions: Sewing slings for mothers to wear in order to facilitate and improve skin-to-skin contact rates with their infants.
Human milk is considered a lifesaver for infants with congenital heart disease (CHD). NANN published a study in June 2019 showing that infants with CHD have an increased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis, feeding difficulties, and more.
“Human milk is the ideal source of nutrition for infants with CHD and should be encouraged by the care team,” the study’s authors wrote. “Evidence-based lactation education and care must be provided to mothers and families prenatally and continue throughout the infant’s hospitalization. If a mother’s goal is to directly breastfeed, this should be facilitated during the infant’s hospital stay.”
The study found that infants receiving an exclusively human milk diet are at a lower risk for necrotizing enterocolitis. Breastfeeding education also correlates with a decreased risk of poor breastfeeding outcomes.
As reported by the National Institutes of Health, some of the surgical advances and procedures in neonatal care include:
At PCCO, our services include:
The list above is not comprehensive. Please contact us today to discuss your options.
If you have any questions, we’re here to help. PCCO is located at 300 N. Graham Street in Portland, Oregon. You can reach us by phone at 503-280-3418.