When I had my daughter just eight years ago, it used to be that the age of viability was 30 weeks. This meant that if she was born prematurely, at 30 weeks she had a very good chance of survival. Before 30 weeks, that was a different story. But medical technology is constantly changing.
When I had my twins two years ago we talked extensively about the possibility of premature birth. Having twins nearly doubles your risk of giving birth early regardless of the health of the mother or other factors. It is not common to carry twins to a full 40 weeks. As we talked about the possibilities I was surprised to learn that the age of viability was now considered 24 weeks. Just 24 weeks of gestation, and my babies, should they have been born early, had a good chance at survival.
As medical advances are enabling doctors to keep even the sickest of babies alive, there is a burgeoning need to have hospital facilities that accommodate babies that are out of the NICU but still are not ready to go home. Blythedale Children’s Hospital’s green unit is one such place where babies can recover and parents learn the ins and outs of what it will take to care for their special baby.
The program is unique to New York. Babies that come there have already likely spent several months in the NICU. It’s not just preemies that they accept, but any baby who was born sick and needs more time to recover, but no longer needs to be in intensive care. Some of the babies were born with heart defects and others were just born with disabilities that will require special care. The green unit is able to wean about 70% of their babies off ventilators which means baby has a much better chance at a healthier, normal life.
Consistent with a growing trend in preemie care, Blythedale Children’s Hospital also offers classes and support for parents. When their babies arrive, most parents have not even changed a diaper. One goal of the green unit is not only to improve the long term health of the baby but to teach parents how to suction a child’s tracheotomy, provide daily physical therapy, or even help parents feed their child.
Hopefully, the trend will continue and we’ll have ‘green units’ in all 50 states. These units provide much needed support and assistance to families.