Emma Dance visits the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit - NICU - at St Michael's Hospital, Bristol
For all the hundreds and thousands of healthy babies born in the UK every day there are, sadly, a handful who find themselves fighting for their lives.
Instead of spending their first weeks and months being cuddled and cooed over, they are cocooned in an incubator; and parents are not kept awake by the cries of their newborn, but by fear and worry and the silence of the empty cot.
Which is why facilities like St Michael’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit are so important, and why Bristol Property Live has chosen to support Above and Beyond – the local hospital charity which raises funds for all nine of Bristol’s city centre hospitals.
At St Michael’s, round the clock care from the hard-working medical staff and high-tech equipment mean that more babies’ lives can be saved than ever before.
The special care baby unit covers the largest geographical region in the UK, taking babies from across the whole south-west. At full capacity it can care for 31 little ones and around 800 babies are treated there every year.
Sadly, it’s rare that there’s even a handful of spare beds and all too often any empty spaces are filled by babies from other regions when there’s no room at their local unit.
The intensive care ward is where the very sickest babies are cared for. Many of these are born severely premature, weighing less than 1kg and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Seeing them laying in their incubators, so innocent and helpless, every part of me wanted to reach out and hold them. But they are so vulnerable that exposure to germs could prove fatal, so human contact must be kept to a minimum. The incubators and Vital Signs Monitors truly are life saving pieces of equipment. The incubators offer protection and an environment to simulate that of the womb to allow the babies to grow – temperature and humidity can be set exactly and nutrients administered, while the monitors keep track of even the slightest change to the babies’ heartbeat, temperature and breathing. Each incubator costs in the region of £15,000 and the monitors £25,000, and the unit still needs more of each. It might seem like a lot, but you only have to look at the babies to realise that it’s a small price to pay for the lives that could be saved.
In the high dependency ward I see a child, just a few days old, who was born dependent on drugs and needed to be weaned off his addiction, and in the low dependency ward I meet a mother who was preparing to take her daughter home and had nothing but praise for the unit and the staff. “Everyone here has been fantastic,” she said. “They have taken such good care of my daughter, and the facilities for parents has meant that we haven’t had to leave her. The work that is done here is amazing.”
While there’s sadness to the story of every baby being cared for, thanks to the staff the atmosphere is overwhelmingly positive. Every single member of the medical team was smiling and warm and reassuring. I feared that I might find the experience upsetting but surprisingly I came away feeling strangely uplifted. In a world that can be so full of fear and uncertainty, here was a place that was filled with kind, unselfish people, doing their best for some of those that most need help. A special care unit is somewhere you hope you never end up, but I feel privileged to have been there.
If you would like to support St Michael’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit contact Lorna on 0117 3700 842 or visit www.aboveandbeyond.org.uk