Caring for tiny babies

PVH NICU expansion gives families, preemies the environment they need
March 30th, 2016

The moments after a child’s birth are some of life’s most precious.

David Knighton holds his 1-week-old son, King David Knighton
David Knighton holds his 1-week-old son, King David Knighton, at Poudre Valley Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. King was born about 11 weeks early and spent nearly two months in the NICU. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.

When your child weighs only 2 or 3 pounds and is as long as a 1-liter bottle of Pepsi, you need world-class care in a world-class environment.

Erika Druhot, who delivered her twins on New Year’s Day at Poudre Valley Hospital, knows that in the neonatal intensive care unit, the nurses who cared for her twins became part of her family; Poudre Valley Hospital became an extension of her home.

In the coming weeks, PVH is expanding its NICU, making the home-away-from-home a more comfortable, private and nurturing environment for new life and new parents.

The unit will expand from 9,700 square feet to 22,400 square feet and from 19 to 32 beds, mostly in private rooms. It will be fully equipped with the latest technology and capabilities, such as high-frequency ventilation, nitric oxide and hypothermia therapy. It will provide families with a private lounge and showers and each room will have a convertible sofa so parents can stay overnight.

“PVH’s NICU provides excellent family-centered care, but it’s time to expand,” said Geraldine Tamborelli, UCHealth’s senior director of women and children services in northern Colorado. “Our expanded NICU [opening April 21] will continue to provide our community with world-class care — we’ll just have a world-class space to do it in.”

PVH’s NICU achieved Level III status in 2006, allowing for 19 preemies to be cared for in its open-bay layout and an additional six in its continuing care space. About 450 babies are cared for annually in the PVH NICU, and average census is about 15.

New father, David Knighton, sits with Erika Druhot while she holds her 1-week-old daughter Brielle
New father, David Knighton, sits with Erika Druhot while she holds her 1-week-old daughter Brielle, at PVH NICU. Brielle and her twin brother, King, were born about 11 weeks early at weighed just over 2 pounds each. Photo by Kati Blocker.

As a Level III NICU, clinicians care for the smallest and sickest newborns because it meets the highest standards, including having a wide variety of specialists on site, such as a neonatologist, neonatal nurse practitioners and neonatal nurses. PVH’s NICU cares for babies as tiny as 2 pounds and as young as 28 weeks (in certain cases, as young as 27 weeks).

“When babies come out early, everything is still developing. They need the time here to be supported and grow up,” said PVH neonatal registered nurse Kristin Anthony.

As was the case for Druhot and David Knighton’s newborn twins, King David and Brielle Louise Knighton. King weighed just 2 pounds, 12 ounces at birth and Brielle weighed 2 pounds, 8 ounces, and both spent almost two months in the NICU.

The NICU’s current layout is an open-bay design that separates babies and their families by curtains. The space is not currently configured to allow parents to stay overnight.

“Because of the setup, there is no room for privacy — it’s the first thing you notice,” Anthony said. “As a nurse, it’s hard to control or provide any isolation.”

The open-bay layout has its advantages, as nurses can easily hear and see when a family or coworker may need their help. But that same noise and closeness also is a hindrance in a NICU.

“We’ve outgrown this space, and our rooms will provide a beautiful, private and quiet environment for parents to spend as much time as they would like,” Tamborelli said. “This will ultimately help these babies grow and develop faster, enabling them to go home even sooner.”

TBrielle Knighton
Brielle Knighton followed the birth of her twin brother, King, to be the first babies born in 2016 at Poudre Valley Hospital. The twins weighed just over 2 pounds each and spent almost two months in the NICU. They are now healthy and home. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth

Studies have shown babies respond better to the care provided by their own mothers and fathers, said Barb Peters, nurse manager for PVH’s NICU. “When parents become more involved in the care, they learn more about the baby and are more prepared to take the baby home,” she added.

The new NICU’s design was created by a group of nurses, physicians, pharmacists, respiratory and other therapists, security staff and others, including family members of former NICU patients.

“We have had input in every decision, from floor plans to couch colors, how the room is laid out, furniture, setup, lighting and equipment placement,” Peters said.

King and Brielle are now at home with their parents. Brielle is still on oxygen, but both babies are weighing in around 7 pounds and eating well.

“I’m so thankful for the people at PVH and in the NICU,” Druhot said. “I wouldn’t have known what to do with preemie babies. It was nice that I had full-term experience [Druhot and Knighton also have an almost 2-year-old daughter], but I still had no idea. … These people become like family. I know I’ll continue to stop in here and say hello — and I’ll be excited to see the new space.”

Community open house

WHAT: PVH Neonatal Intensive Care Unit community open house.

WHEN: 10:30 a.m.-noon April 16.

WHERE: Poudre Valley Hospital’s new neonatal intensive care unit. The hospital is located at 1024 S. Lemay Ave., Fort Collins. Go through PVH’s main entrance, take the public elevators to the third floor and follow the signs to the open house.

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.