CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The newborn babies treated in Charleston Area Medical Center's neonatal intensive care unit are breathing better these days.
The number of very low-birth weight babies who develop chronic lung disease in the NICU has dropped dramatically, from 40 percent in 2007 to 23 percent last year. That rate is slightly better than the average rate measured, 24 percent, at about 900 hospital NICUs around the world.
The hospital measures the rate of chronic lung disease in babies who weigh less than 1500 grams, about 3 pounds, 4 ounces.
Chronic lung disease develops in babies when their lung tissue is damaged. Babies with chronic lung disease are more susceptible to pneumonia and viruses. They often have to have oxygen treatments and medications even after they go home.
But changes to the way babies are given resuscitation treatments in the delivery room and in the NICU at CAMC are bringing down the number of babies who develop the disease.
Lower, more constant pressure and oxygen levels for babies that are being resuscitated are two of the major reasons for the decline, Dr. Stefan Maxwell, a neonatologist in the NICU, said. Maxwell, a physician with Pediatrix Medical Group that contracts with CAMC to run the NICU, has been at the hospital since 1990. The staff has switched from using anesthesia bags on the infants to using resuscitators made specifically for infants.
"We haven't seen any stage three or four lung disease in years," Maxwell said. "I think this is one of the reasons, we have done many other things that have contributed to the improvement in the statistics but...I really believe that the earlier we protect the lung immediately after birth, the better the outcome."
For the past few years, the medical staff members at the NICU have been consistently using tools that allow them to deliver a preset amount of pressure and oxygen during resuscitation treatment.
The new procedures don't only apply to low-birth weight babies in the NICU but to every baby who's having breathing problems and needs resuscitation treatment.
Traditionally, when a baby is born and needs help breathing, the doctor or nurse doing the resuscitation uses an anesthesia bag, which they squeeze to inflate the baby's lungs. The same is true if a baby on a ventilator needs to be taken off of that ventilator for any period of time.