Care close to home for the tiniest and most fragile residents

Yvette Gabovic-Dahlke cuddles her tiny son as she gently rocks back and forth in the hospital rocking chair. Her eyes rarely leave the precious bundle. With his little head nestled in her neck and his eyes closed in slumber, it is a picture-perfect tender moment between this mom and babe.

And yet, Henry’s arrival was far from picture perfect.

“It was scary,” says Yvette, who gave birth to Henry at Barrie’s Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) six weeks earlier than expected. Weighing in at only five pounds, 11 ounces at birth the tiny boy soon dropped to five pounds, four ounces.

Yvette, who has two other children ages 4 and 2, was surprised when in early-November she woke up and found that her water had broke. What was to be a quiet day with her daughter turned out to be a day of fears, tears and a premature son.

“It was a day full of surprises,” says Yvette. “I was so worried about him because I did a lot of reading, as I did with all my pregnancies, and I know at 34 weeks pregnant what is fully developed and what is not. I was scared because I knew his lungs would not be developed and that he would probably have to stay in hospital.”

What this well-read teacher didn’t know is that the hospital she would deliver her premature son in is also extremely well-equipped to handle his neonatal needs. That’s because RVH recently received a Level 2C designation for maternal/newborn services. The designation was awarded following a review from an independent provincial Expert Panel.

Simply put, it means care closer to home for these tiny and fragile residents of this region.

“RVH now officially has a Level 2C Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) with two neonatologists,” says Dr. Vincent Ho, neonatologist and Chief of Paediatrics and Neonatology at RVH. “Even at 34 weeks and as tiny as he is, Henry isn’t the smallest newborn we care for at RVH. A Level 2C designation means our NICU can now officially provide care for babies at 30 weeks gestation with a birth weight of greater than 1200 grams (2lbs, 10 oz). It also means that infants from our region who require the level of care offered at a centre like The Hospital for Sick Children will be able to return to RVH at a much earlier phase in their patient journey and receive care close to home.”

Not having to travel to Toronto to receive highly-specialized care for Henry, meant Yvette could keep home life somewhat normal for her other two children. She already spends each day with Henry in the NICU, then rushes home after school to be with her other children and her husband Adam, also a teacher. After she tucks the children into bed, she’s back at RVH for much of the evening.

“It’s hard enough to have to leave him here at night while I go home to spend time with my other children,” says Yvette. “It would have been a whole other blow to my family if we had to travel to a Toronto hospital everyday to see Henry. It’s really hard now and I only live 10 minutes away.”

Demand for neonatal services has increased dramatically as Barrie’s population has soared. RVH has the highest number of births in the North Simcoe Muskoka LHIN (Local Health Integration Network), delivering 2,200 to 2,400 babies each year. Last year more than 500 of those babies required specialized care in RVH’s NICU, formerly called Special Care Nursery.

The NICU is staffed with a highly-trained team of professionals, including two neonatologists (Dr. Vincent Ho and Dr. Chee Chen), a paediatric intensivist (Dr. Asif Kazmi), five paediatricians and a very capable interprofessional team of nurses, respiratory therapists, dietitians, social workers, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

“This designation is an important step in standardizing the level of care for neonatal units in the province. RVH’s NICU has always provided specialized care for infants born prematurely or with feeding or breathing issues. The name of our unit now truly reflects the type and level of care we provide,” says Dr. Ho.

And Yvette is sure glad that level of care was there when she needed it most. “When I had my other two children at RVH I would walk by the NICU and look in the glass window and feel so blessed that my children did not require that kind of special care. Now that my son is here it’s a whole different story. I know there is no better place for Henry to be right now than here in the NICU,” says Yvette.  “There is a special kind of love that is seen here, and not just toward my baby, but to each and every baby here. I can say that just being here has given me hope for humanity again.”