University of Virginia NICU to Add Beds, Expand Care - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

University of Virginia NICU to Add Beds, Expand Care

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Krista McMullen and her son Eli, patient at UVA NICU Krista McMullen and her son Eli, patient at UVA NICU

The University of Virginia has one of the top neonatal intensive care units in the region. Now it's expanding to provide life-saving care to more babies in the first days and months of life.

UVA's NICU doctors care for an average of 550-600 babies a year, but they have had to turn infants away in the past because they simply didn't have space. The doctors haven't had to turn a baby away in the past six months, and they hope adding new beds will mean they'll never have to turn away a family in need.

One family that has benefited from NICU care is the Printys. Six years ago, NBC29 did a telethon for the UVA NICU featuring the Printy family. Kristen and Adam Printy had twin boys in May 2007. Ashton and Ethan were born two months before their due date.

"We were so excited to be having twins and everything was going along just fine and then I woke up one morning not feeling well and the next thing I knew we were in the hospital and they told me the twins were on the way," Kristen said. "We were at 30 weeks at that point, so it was very scary not knowing how much they weighed."

Ashton ended up weighing 3 pounds, 8 ounces and Ethan 3 pounds, 4 ounces.

"It was extremely scary to have preemie babies. Very unexpected," Adam said.

The Printys said the babies were fully developed, so there weren't any major health issues to deal with. The babies just needed time to grow.

"You're holding this tiny baby but he's connected to things. Things are beeping but you don't know what it means," said Kristen. "Every time their breathing would go down there would be a beep and then you just - you just didn't know. They were so tiny and you just prayed that everything would keep functioning as it should. It was very scary with them being that tiny."

Although they couldn't stay in the NICU with their baby boys, the Printys visited them every day to feed them, bathe them, and hold them, until they could finally take them home.

"It was hard to leave them every day but we knew they were in good hands," said Kristen. "It was all very different than we were expecting, but the experience in the NICU was absolutely amazing. The nurses were amazing."

The Printys were happy with the care their boys received during their 31-day stay at the hospital. Now, that NICU that kept their babies alive is expanding.

"We're excited that in the next few weeks we're going to open up eight more beds and this will allow us to take care of even more infants," said Jonathan Swanson, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia Children's Hospital.

The addition of a new wing will allow the NICU to go from 45 to a capacity of 53 babies who can receive care at a time.

"Our goal in the Children's Hospital is to never say no, and here in the NICU, we never want to say no to any parent who needs their child to be taken care of," Swanson said.

Swanson says babies come to the UVA NICU from all over the region. "We're the only neonatal intensive care unit in the region, but we do take infants as far as West Virginia, the Chesapeake-Tidewater area, as well as Northern Virginia, and as far as the North Carolina border," Swanson said.

And their care goes beyond just premature babies. The UVA NICU has over 30 pediatric specialties and can treat both infants and babies with very complex medical issues.

"Here at the NICU, we take care of any number of problems in infants. Whether it be premature babies born from the limits of viability, all the way up to term infants that have surgical or medical needs," Swanson said.

Now Ashton and Ethan are six years old.

"They are full of life, full boy, full steam ahead," said Kristen.

The boys are healthy and happy. They enjoy karate, basketball, and playing music.

"It's a lot of fun. Definitely a lot of work. Having twins is an experience," said Adam. "It's something I wouldn't change for anything, so it's great."

"It's actually really neat to look back and see how little they were and just the experience we went through, but I wouldn't change it for the world. I think it made us appreciate life more," said Kristen.

UVA NICU doctors hope to have the new beds available in the next few weeks. In addition, the new Battle Building at UVA Children's Hospital is slated to open in the summer of 2014 with outpatient care, including for former NICU patients.

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