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Issue Date: March 2007

Top Docs NICU

Lori Valyko Weber
Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, scheduled to open summer 2008, will be a balancing act. Its womblike environment, complete with customizable lights and sounds for each room, will also have instant access to high-tech medical equipment.
“Cycles of light are important to developing babies in the womb,” says Dr. Michele Walsh professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University and medical director of the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Rainbow. “These NICU babies should still be in their mothers. They’d hear their mothers’ heartbeats and see faint lights. So we’re trying to appropriately simulate what their bodies would be experiencing, but still provide life support and continuous treatments.”
Variable lights will be adjusted to the baby’s individual needs and the time of day, followinging natu-ral sleep-wake cycles. Sounds can either soothe or distress babies depending on their conditions, so whether soft music or a heartbeat will be audible will vary according to each baby’s need.

Since a tranquil, nonstressful environment helps promote healing, Walsh’s team is reducing unneces-sary disturbances by stocking the suites with the necessary equipment, allowing the staff to come to the babies instead of moving them for most
Hospital staff will use silent communication devices, not loud beepers that might disturb sick babies. “There’s no need to jolt them awake every time someone needs something,” Walsh says.

Combine soft fabrics and wood textures in each of the 40 private suites and you’ve got a backdrop for the perfect place for newborns and their parents to bond. Other added bonuses include a televi-sion and Internet access, along with a bed for parents who want to stay with their babies around the clock.   

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