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Top-Notch Care for Newborns in Critical Need

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Rady Children’s Neonatology Program combines TLC with high-tech equipment to care for critically ill infants.

A baby’s due date is a day often met with anticipation and excitement.

But what happens when that day comes much too early? Or when complications arise and emergency interventions are required to keep mom and baby alive? While most deliveries don’t require extra-special care, each year between 10 and 15 percent of newborns need the above and-beyond support that can only be offered by neonatology specialists in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Neonatology: What’s in a Name?

Neonatology is a subspecialty of pediatrics that provides care for newborn babies, especially sick or premature infants. At Rady Children’s, the multidisciplinary neonatology division includes neonatologists, neonatal nurse practitioners, neonatal respiratory therapists and registered nurses with advanced life support training—all of whom primarily work in the Hospital’s 60-bed NICU. Offering level 4 care, the highest designation available by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Rady Children’s NICU is a major referral center for the most critically ill newborns, many of whom suffer from severe heart and lung conditions or are born extremely premature. While there are many conditions that require NICU-level care—from birth defects and breathing and feeding problems to infections or congenital conditions—the main reason for NICU care is preterm birth. And this need is growing, due to the increasing number of newborns that are being considered candidates for NICU placement, says Denise Suttner, MD, clinical director at Rady Children’s, director of the San Diego Regional ECMO Program, and professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego.

“There is a changing landscape to offer care to newborns that have more significant health problems,” Dr. Suttner says. “Today, even more premature babies end up being considered appropriate to offer medical intervention, and babies with more serious malformations are being offered intensive care. Over the two-plus decades of my career I’ve seen more need to offer robust services across all subspecialties.”

That’s where the Rady Children’s neonatology division shines—offering a broad array of services and a reputation for clinical excellence that families in Southern California have come to count on.

The Rady Children’s Difference

What makes Rady Children’s neonatology division stand out—not only in its own NICU, which offers the homelike comfort of private and semi-private rooms to help parents bond with their newborn in the hospital environment, but in other NICUs in other hospitals in San Diego and Southern Riverside counties?

“We have very talented neonatology physicians, specialized nurses, respiratory therapists and social workers that all have expertise in taking care of critically ill newborns and focusing on medicine and the development of the fragile baby. We focus on the family unit and spend significant time understanding the stress that parents and family members are going through—the fact that, as parents, your newborn baby is the most important person to you and then you hear almost immediately that they need to be in the hospital. It’s important to have that complete understanding of both the medicine and the emotional component of a baby staying in the NICU,” Dr. Suttner says.

“Plus, within San Diego, we provide excellent neonatal services throughout the county, partnering with the delivery hospitals to bring that expertise to those hospitals so not every baby has to leave the place where mother is recovering. We only separate babies from their parents when they need to be in a level 4 hospital. We understand the importance of keeping babies with their parents, so we oversee services at other hospitals so we only have to move the most critical out of the host hospital,” she says.

“Finally, the other amazing offering of the neonatology group is our high level of clinical sophistication, as well as our focus on innovation and research,” she adds. “Quality care is really at the forefront of how we measure ourselves, and all of our team members make sure we are exceeding standards.”

Karen Mestan, MD, MS, division chief of neonatology at Rady Children’s and professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego, echoes these sentiments.

“There are so many reasons why Rady Children’s stands out among children’s hospitals nationwide,” she says.

“I relocated to San Diego after 30 years in Chicago because Rady Children’s and UC San Diego have a wonderful reputation for being a world class children’s hospital and neonatology program. I knew even from a distance that it truly is a special place,” Dr. Mestan continues. “What’s most unique is that we have a very diverse population of patients that we serve. Plus, it is an amazing place for the depth and breadth of subspecialty care. We have everyone here, and there is a lot of collaboration with other departments.”

What does the future hold for neonatology in the San Diego region?

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