SPECIAL DELIVERIES Spring Hill Regional’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit celebrates 10th year

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Mike Bhend and Chelsea Curl came to Spring Hill Regional Hospital’s special delivery ward for a glucose test. It was Curl’s first pregnancy, and doctors had determined it was high risk after an ultrasound found two heartbeats.
Staff at Spring Hill Regional Hospital NICU (left to right): Stephanie Gonzalez RN; Megan Glemza RN; Raquel Dionko RN; Francisco Ojeda, neonatologist; Nikki Mott RN; Aaron Germain, neonatologist; Kelly McClean RN, Roberto Sosa, neonatologist; Tory Arnett RN; Carmen Villaveces, neonatologist; Denise Barbera CNE KIM DAME
The test was one of many Curl had undergone throughout her 33 weeks gestation. Her pregnancy was going well and Curl, 19, knew these were normal precautions taken to ensure she delivered two healthy babies.

That was Sunday morning, said Bhend, 21. The Spring Hill couple never left the hospital, and Curl was scheduled for a C-section delivery on Wednesday. But Tuesday morning, when the twin’s heartbeats dropped, Curl was taken to the hospital’s operating room and the twins were delivered successfully, Bhend said.

The couple welcomed Logan and Travis, weighing 3.11 and 3.13 pounds, respectively. The babies were taken to the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where they were monitored until healthy enough to go home with their parents.

Samir Shakfeh, Curl’s doctor, delivered the twins to their overwhelmingly appreciative parents. “They are both healthy and doing well,” he said.

Caring for premature newborns, multiple births and other medically complex post-deliveries typically is done in a hospital’s NICU ward, where doctors, nurses and other staffers are trained to care for the unique needs of these medically fragile infants.

Had there not been an NICU in Hernando County, the couple would have been transferred to Tampa or St. Petersburg before the births to ensure the babies would receive premium care.

Spring Hill Regional Hospital debuted the county’s only NICU 10 years ago. The Level 2, 10-bed facility focuses entirely on medically complicated newborns. With its team of specialized doctors, nurses and supporting staff, the unit has cared for and released thousands of babies needing medical treatment and expert monitoring after their births.

Bhend and Curl helped commemorate the NICU’s dynamic 10-year anniversary celebration by demonstrating its purpose. In fact, they prepared to visit Logan and Travis in the ward as the staff gathered to welcome community members, doctors and others to a reception honoring the facility’s milestone.

Shakfeh missed the festivities because he was busy bringing the NICU its two newest patients.

It was gala event, with guests, medical personnel and others helping to celebrate the landmark anniversary of the facility that has helped medically fragile newborns from across Hernando County and surrounding communities.

Francisco Ojeda, a neonatologist and director of the NICU, spoke of the highly skilled services the unit has provided during its 10 years. “We can continue to look forward to that kind of service in the future,” he said.

Guests had light refreshments and an opportunity to chat with various professionals, including those responsible for the facility.

According to Denise Barbera, the hospital’s chief nursing executive, the NICU at Spring Hill Regional Hospital handles newborns of at least 25 gestational weeks or who, at birth, weigh more than 2.5 pounds. The facility serves local families as well as some transfers from Seven Rivers in Citrus County.

The unit admits patients born prematurely, as well as multiple births. Others – about 20 percent of newborns handled by the NICU – are those delivered with addictions to drugs.

Regarding those born with drug dependencies, Barbera said, medical monitored withdrawal is vital to help distinguish between healthy infants and those with developmental obstacles.

The unit can care for up to 10 newborns at a time. Those who don’t meet weight or gestational age criteria are transported to a Level 3 NICU, usually in St. Petersburg or Tampa.

Spring Hill’s NICU is dependent on skilled professionals who advocate for the babies as if they were their own.

Complications can arise – both from premature multiple or single births and addiction, Barbera said – that require care for as long as five weeks to prepare infants for discharge.

The reward, Barbera said, comes at the moment the infants are healthy enough to go home.

For Logan and Travis, that milestone was expected to arrive quickly. Both were responding well to care. “They are excelling by the day,” Bhend said. “We are so excited.”