Sarah Ruffins was swept up in a dramatic dance to delivery when she went into labor with twin boys, almost three months too soon. Moments later, the Labor & Delivery team at NorthBay Medical Center jumped into action. They are trained to handle all situations, from birthing fire drills to the laboriously long and drawn out experience.
For emergency deliveries such as Sarah’s, “that’s when it becomes all hands on deck to take care of Mom and the baby,” says Richard Bell, M.D., medical director of the NorthBay Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and one of three neonatologists on the staff.
When the NICU gets a call that an emergency delivery is imminent, both NorthBay’s Labor & Delivery and NICU teams swing into action, “in
a tightly choreographed process that we’ve been practicing for more than 25 years,” Dr. Bell says.
Sarah, a radiation therapist with the NorthBay Cancer Center, and her husband, Brett, had been mid-way through a normal pregnancy. As first-time parents, the couple was just getting adjusted to the idea that Sarah was carrying twins. “To be honest, when I heard I was having twins I had a panic attack,” Sarah recalls. “When we found out they were developing well, I got really excited.”
But the excitement changed to anxiety after a routine ultrasound in early August 2011. The NorthBay ultrasound technologist and radiologist discovered Sarah’s cervix had begun to thin, almost 12 weeks too early. Already a “high-risk” pregnancy because of her age—35—and the fact that she was carrying twins, her OB/GYN immediately ordered bed rest. “Strict, strict bed rest,” Sarah recalls.
Medicines to deter contractions and steroids to help the boys’ lungs develop were also ordered.
“I am so happy I delivered my babies at NorthBay.”
But Sarah’s boys had other ideas. With only 10 days of bed rest behind her, Sarah went to her OB/GYN to see about some strange “feelings” she had been experiencing, that her OB/GYN confirmed were actually contractions. She was immediately rushed to NorthBay Medical Center’s Labor & Delivery Department.
The first thing NorthBay’s team did was to turn up the heat in the delivery room, Dr. Bell explains. “Usually it’s about 62 degrees in there, because that’s more comfortable for laboring moms and the doctors. But for pre-term babies, that’s too cold. So, we warm the room up to about 75 degrees. We are required to measure how close to normal a baby’s temperature is on admission to the NICU; our NorthBay staff has one of the best records in the state.”
The NICU team also readied its special newborn beds, called Stabillettes; and had them on standby in the delivery room.
When Sarah arrived in the delivery room, she was met by two teams: one was led by her obstetrician, an anesthesiologist, and a nurse; and the other was from the NICU, which included a neonatologist and two NICU nurses, one of whom was assigned to care for “Baby A,” and another one for “Baby B.”
“The OB/GYN, anesthesiologist and Labor and Delivery OR team were caring for Mom, and as soon as the babies were born, they were handed off to the neonatologist and the NICU nurses,” says Katie Lydon, NorthBay’s clinical manager for Women’s and Children’s Services. “They were working simultaneously in the same room.”
Actually, Katie adds, a NICU nurse—specially trained in neonatal resuscitation—is on hand for all births. This nurse will instantly step in if it appears the newborn is struggling to breathe. “But, if a baby is born crying, that’s a good thing, and the nurse will probably say ‘OK, looks like it’s all good here,’ and head back over to the NICU,” Katie notes.
NorthBay’s NICU team has years of experience caring for the smallest, sickest infants born not only at NorthBay, but other area facilities, because the NorthBay NICU offers the highest level of neonatal care in Solano County, Dr. Bell says. “No matter who gets the call, we all know the drill. We are very well practiced, everyone understands their particular role. Our goal is to stabilize the baby within 30 minutes, because it makes such a difference.”
Sarah’s boys were born 10 weeks early after an emergency C-section; Cameron weighed 3 pounds, 2 ounces and Devin weighed 3 pounds. They spent the next seven weeks in the NorthBay NICU.
The NICU team is acutely aware that premature births can be an extremely stressful time for families. “These new parents are scared, uncertain and worried for their tiny babies, and while the team is focused on caring for the infant, they are also focused on caring for the families,” Dr. Bell adds. “We know these children may be with us for days and weeks, and we become extremely close to our families. The relationships we develop are precious.”
The Ruffins spent every available minute during the next seven weeks at the NICU while their boys got bigger and stronger. “The nurses were so nice. We were there every single day, staying for hours.” Brett would visit after work, and sometimes even came back over in the middle of the night, “just to hold them,” Sarah recalls.
The Ruffins appreciated the nursing staff’s support. “The nurses helped me learn how to change diapers, give the boys a bath, how to
feed them and get them on a schedule.” The compassionate care meant a lot to this new mom, “because we were not ready to have them so early; we didn’t even have their room ready!”
Today the boys are doing very well. They are reaching all their developmental milestones, if not surpassing them, Sarah reports.
“We deal with families who are desperately worried, and when their child does well, it is a tremendous gift,” Dr. Bell says.
Of the NICU and Labor & Delivery staffs, Sarah says, “We’re life-long friends now. I am so happy I delivered my babies at NorthBay.”
NICU Reunion Celebrates Children
Maya Walker, 1 month, was the youngest NICU graduate to attend the 27th Annual NICU Reunion, held in November at the NorthBay Administration Center in Green Valley. The event drew scores of children and their parents who enjoyed games and refreshments and sharing milestones with the doctors and nurses who cared for them.