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Inside Pediatrics, Neonatology

NICU Care Coordinators: Getting Babies Ready for Discharge from the Day of Admission

Infants admitted to Children’s of Alabama’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) are closely monitored by care coordinators who begin planning discharge from the day of admission.

When a baby is admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Children’s of Alabama, a special team of nurses has already begun planning the care required to send them home. Called care coordinators, their job is to ensure everything is in place for a positive outcome after discharge. “The doctor, bedside nurses and nurse practitioners are mainly focused on acute care of the patient,” said NICU Medical Director Carl H. Coghill, M.D., who, together with Children’s nursing administration, helped developed the discharge program when he became medical director in 1998. “The coordinators are focused on the long-term. They are the ones that see a patient from start to finish.”

 “They are a face parents learn to know and trust,” he said.

From routine immunizations, retinopathy of prematurity screenings, hearing evaluations and other newborn screenings, the discharge planners oversee the health maintenance of these tiny patients. They also round with the medical team every day to stay abreast of the most current plan for the baby, then incorporate that information into the discharge planning.

“As medicine has evolved, more preemies are, thankfully, surviving,” said Brenda Voulgarides, RN, who helped shape the position as the first care coordinator 20 years ago. “But they often go home with complex medical needs.” For instance, she still remembers the first time a patient was discharged with a gastrostomy tube or tracheostomy.

Today, as discharge nears, the team ensures that all pending consults, studies and lab work are followed; work to ensure that all consulting teams agree to the final treatment plan; and arrange all outpatient follow-up. They also provide individual education to the families on the baby’s care, including instruction on all equipment and medications. An important part of this is ensuring that parents learn how to be their child’s advocate and know when and who to call for help. After discharge, they provide the baby’s outpatient pediatrician with a comprehensive overview of the hospital course, medications, and plans to facilitate care transition.

The complexity of the patients means that the care coordinators have to be adept at working through many barriers during the education process. For instance, Voulgarides once taught a blind mother how to administer her baby’s medications and care for the infant’s tracheostomy.

The challenges of the babies mean that “the parents have to really understand their child’s diagnosis, reasons for the medicines and need for all of the follow-up,” said care coordinator Andrea Walding,RN. And that takes time. “It can’t be done over two days.”

The care coordinators also work to ensure that the baby’s team of physicians all agree on the discharge plans, said Voulgarides, so when the babies are seen in the outpatient clinic, “everyone’s philosophy aligns” and there are no major changes that require significant re-education of the parent or doubt about their prior care.

Coghill knows how important the coordinators are. “Often, parent satisfaction with the NICU has more to do with the care coordinators than with the doctors and bedside nurses,” he said.

Inside Pediatrics, Neonatology

Neurodevelopmental Multidisciplinary Care

Children’s of Alabama’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) developed a neuroprotective team two years ago in efforts to improve an infant’s neurodevelopmental care.

The first three years of life are a crucial time period for rapid brain growth and normal development. This growth and development relies heavily upon the surrounding environment and positive external stimulation. Now imagine a baby spending months, if not years, in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), an environment filled with noxious stimuli—loud monitors, bright lights, painful procedures and if a patient is acutely ill, limited positive physical interactions. A great obstacle, then, is how to provide babies the best care to ensure normal neurodevelopmental growth.

“Many of our NICU patients are already at particularly increased risk due to their underlying diagnoses and prolonged hospitalizations,” said neonatologist Allison Black, M.D. “Some patients stay in the unit up to two years,” she said. Black, along with therapists, nurses, and educators who care for the babies, felt they could do more to optimize their environment, care, and, ultimately, their neurodevelopmental growth and long-term outcomes.

They created a neuroprotective team two years ago to provide the initiatives needed to improve an infant’s neurodevelopmental care. This multidisciplinary team, composed of occupational, physical and speech therapists, care coordinators, physicians, neonatal nurse practitioners, bedside nurses, and nursing educators, is designed to improve communication and alignment among the multitude of health care providers who work with the infant.

The team first focused on providing education and increased awareness about neurodevelopmental care to staff and families through a “carnival,” – hands-on skills labs, simulations, learning modules and didactic education. Topics included safe sleep practices, wound and skin care, kangaroo care, feeding, developmental and sensory issues in premature infants, and the use of developmental products such the Dandle WRAP™, which can promote neuromuscular development and self-regulatory ability. More than 200 nurses participated.

The team continues to work on other initiatives that target bedside care providers and encourage family involvement including:

  • A book cart where parents can obtain books for themselves, their other children and their hospitalized infant.
  • A sensory book for each room with pictures and lullaby words so parents can read and sing to their infant.
  • Adult coloring books for reducing stress.
  • Ongoing and regular education with staff, including reminder cards with a summary of important “take home” points from the latest education, review of recent journal articles and monthly educational topics that have both been converted to virtual sessions during the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019, the multidisciplinary team expanded to include audiologists and rehabilitation medicine as well as NICU physicians, nurse practitioners and bedside nurses, and began holding regular NICU neurodevelopmental rounds. “During weekly rounds, each patient is systematically discussed,” Black said, “including their current medical and neurodevelopmental care plan, specific short- and long-term goals as well as long-term overall prognosis.”

The discussions may lead to changes in the care plan, such as starting physical therapy earlier. “It’s helpful to have a team-based approach to developing the neurodevelopmental goals, discussing parents’ expectations and providing the space for an open forum to discuss each patient’s long-term medical prognosis,” she said.

This team encourages parents and other caregivers to be involved with their infant’s therapy, working alongside the rehabilitation physicians they will see in the outpatient setting. “Involving the rehab medicine team early in the course helps ease the transition once our patients are discharged home,” Black said. “I think the frequent discussion, early engagement and involvement of the multidisciplinary team and care providers will help us accomplish the ultimate goal of improving the overall neurodevelopmental care and outcomes for our patients.”

Inside Pediatrics, Neonatology, Nephrology

Teaching the Rest of the World How to Care for Babies and Small Children on Dialysis

A Children’s of Alabama team member attends to an infant patient simulator during a NICKS presentation in the Children’s Simulation Center. NICKS, the Neonatal and Infant Course for Kidney Support, is an education program combining specialist instruction, parent perspectives and hands-on training and support.

Children’s of Alabama provides more days of dialysis to babies than any institution in the world. Indeed, Children’s nephrologists and intensivists pioneered the use of dialysis in newborns and young children by retrofitting a machine used for adult heart failure patients. Now, with U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved dialysis machines for young children on the market, the team has been inundated with requests from other hospitals for training and information.

The result is the Neonatal and Infant Course for Kidney Support (NICKS), a one-and-a-half day educational program that combines didactic teaching from a variety of specialists, an opportunity to have a parental perspective, “hands-on” skills sessions and virtual small group case simulations.

 “As medicine advances and we continue to create innovative answers to problems, it is imperative that we offer up what we have learned in a practical, ‘hands-on’ way,” said course co-founder and acute dialysis nurse practitioner Kara Short, MSN, CRNP.

“There’s a huge need across the country and across the world for people to understand how dialysis is different for newborns and small kids,” said course co-founder David Askenazi, M.D., MsPH, FASN, who directs the Pediatric and Infant Center for Acute Nephrology (PICAN) at Children’s. “We cover the whole gamut of how to build a program with the hope that we can educate them, inspire them and provide them with tools so they can go back to their institutions and succeed in caring for small kids.”

While the course was originally designed to be held in person, COVID-19 forced it online. That hasn’t hurt its popularity. The first course, held in July, sold out in a few days and by early September there was a 20-person waiting list for the October program. Participants have come from throughout the world, including Israel, Qatar, and Canada. The interest has been so great that Short and Askenazi doubled the number of participants from 20 to 40.

“The feedback has been tremendous,” said Short. Among the comments she’s received from participants:

  • “I loved this! I was very impressed with the overall quality. Well done, I really enjoyed it!”
  • “The conference was extremely well run, efficient and very informative. I know I learned a lot.”
  • “Excellent job on your inaugural course. Would highly recommend.”
  • “Enjoyed attending with lots of good information.  Looking forward to reviewing policies to help grow our own program.”

The plan is to continue offering the virtual course every three to four months. For information, contactDavid Askenazi, M.D., MsPH, FASN at daskenazi@peds.uab.edu or Kara Short, MSN, CRNP at kara.short@childrensal.org.

Inside Pediatrics, Neonatology

Generous Donation to NeuroNICU B.R.A.I.N. Program Helps Reduce Risk of Brain Injury in Premature Infants

NICU_WEB

Through a generous donation by Robert and Kathleen Israel, Children’s of Alabama is now home to new technology that helps dramatically prevent brain injury and improve brain development and function in its sickest patients.

Children’s of Alabama is thrilled to announce a very generous gift of a cutting-edge technology designed to help reduce the risk of brain injury in preterm infants. The gift was donated by Robert and Kathleen Israel in honor of the care their daughter, Ivy, received in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in 2018. Ivy is home and doing very well. “The NICU team at Children’s of Alabama saved our daughter’s life,” said Robert Israel, “and we are forever grateful.”

“This new technology made possible by the Israel family is helping us  dramatically prevent brain injury and improve brain development and function in our sickest patients,” said Manimaran Ramani, M.D., director of the NeuroNICU program.

Preterm infants born at 30 weeks or earlier are at higher risk for developing intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH), which is associated with long-term neurocognitive and motor deficits. The risk for neurocognitive and motor deficits is also higher for term infants with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), seizures, metabolic disorders, or stroke, and those undergoing ECMO therapy.

However, a multidisciplinary initiative in the NICU at Children’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) called NeuroNICU B.R.A.I.N. (Brain Rescue and Avoidance of Injury in Neonates) aims to prevent and reduce neurocognitive and motor deficits in high-risk neonates.  

The objective of the B.R.A.I.N. program is to identify and prevent brain injury early in high-risk neonates through state-of-the-art diagnostic techniques and neuroprotective care. An interdisciplinary team of medical professionals meets every week to strategize individualized comprehensive neuroprotective plans for infants enrolled in B.R.A.I.N.

Though standard vital monitoring techniques used in NICUs such as blood pressure, heart rate and pulse oximetry provide valuable information about the infant’s hemodynamic status, such standard monitoring techniques don’t provide real-time information regarding the brain’s oxygenation saturation, oxygenation extraction and perfusion status of a sick neonate.

This is where infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) monitoring comes in. “This technology allows us to monitor cerebral oxygenation in very sick infants,” Ramani said. It is a non-invasive method that can be used continually at the bedside as well as during surgery to monitor the health of the brain. It can also be combined with amplitude-integrated electroencephalography (aEEG) to monitor cerebral electrical activity and to diagnose seizures in sick neonates in real-time.

“With the two NIRS devices donated by the Israel family, we are now able to monitor the brain health and adjust our therapies and strategies in real-time on our patients,” Ramani said.

 

 

Inside Pediatrics, Neonatology

Debriefing after Resuscitation: A Quality Improvement Initiative

Resuscitation_WEB

In October 2018, the Children’s of Alabama Neonatal Intensive Care Unit embarked on a quality improvement project, Debriefing Following Resuscitation/Code Events in the NICU, to identify opportunities to improve the resuscitation process, including staff satisfaction. It is one of several quality initiatives led by the Children’s Hospitals Neonatal Consortium.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) can be an intimidating and stressful place to work.  One of the most stressful events in the NICU is a neonatal code or resuscitation, which may require intubation, chest compressions and special medications, all delivered under the pressure of knowing that seconds count. This requires that the team of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and other practitioners work together like a well-oiled machine.

Resuscitation codes are, by definition, rare events, said Children’s of Alabama neonatologist Hannah Hightower, M.D. Weeks may go by without any and then they might have several in one month. But they are definitely disruptive and stressful.

In October 2018, the Children’s of Alabama NICU embarked on a quality improvement project, Debriefing Following Resuscitation/Code Events in the NICU, to identify opportunities to improve the resuscitation process, including staff satisfaction. It is one of several quality initiatives led by the Children’s Hospitals Neonatal Consortium (CHNC), a group of more than 30 children’s hospitals around the country dedicated to using performance improvement methods to improve the delivery and quality of care in Level IV NICUs, which care for high acuity and medically complicated neonates.

The premise is simple. As soon as possible after the code, everyone gathers for a few minutes to discuss what went well, any equipment or medication problems, communication quality, and, of course, highlighting what could go better next time. They also complete a short form documenting the discussion. In just three months, the team at Children’s exceeded its goal of holding post-resuscitation debriefings after 80 percent of codes.

Such approaches can lead to improved resuscitation quality and reduced mortality, research finds. [1]

“The goal is to help everyone involved in the process improve skills, cope with the stress, and ultimately and most importantly, improve the process and patient outcomes by identifying potential latent safety threats,” Hightower said. “We want everyone on the team to feel free to express any concerns as well as provide support. Even the caregivers need a chance to decompress.”  “Not only does it provide a venue for raising issues related to caring for the patient, she said, “but it also lets us show appreciation for the things that went well.”

“It wasn’t a surprise to hear that one of the biggest issues is communication in a stressful period,” Hightower said. “We can always improve communication, whether that means discussing who is leading the code or controlling the volume so everyone can hear and understand what’s going on.” Discussing communication issues shortly after the code is important, she said, “because it’s at the front of your mind. By doing this immediately, you remember things you may not later and can articulate issues that might not be apparent in a week or two.”

Since implementing the initiative, the team has begun a proposal to further improve communication by emphasizing who is leading the code. Future projects include providing each member a way to give real time feedback not just to the code event, but also to the quality and effectiveness of the debrief. “We want to quickly identify systemic matters that can be improved for the next event. This is to develop a culture of freely expressing ideas and working through issues together as a team,” Hightower said.

The team is still collecting data on the primary outcome of latent safety events, a key component of any quality improvement initiative. Secondary outcomes include quality of the debriefs and composition of the responding code team.

“I credit our success to our strong nursing leadership and the willingness of the staff to be actively involved in quality improvement and do the extra work required to accomplish that goal,” Hightower said. “They have to step away from the patient and cover for each other during the debrief and even though it may take just a few minutes, to ask a nurse to step away from the patient is a big task.”

Although the team is still collecting data on the impact on staff satisfaction, she said, “anecdotally we have heard from nurses and other staff who feel they had a chance to say what they needed during the code or might need in the future. That’s gotten positive feedback.”

“It’s important to highlight the goal of this project is improved patient care, patient outcomes and staff satisfaction,” Hightower said. It’s also important that Children’s of Alabama is a part of a national collaborative with other major children’s hospitals, she said, and has been one of the most successful programs in the CHNC in terms of demonstrated outcomes. Other performance improvement initiatives with the CHNC include improving pain management and reducing nephrotoxic injury.

Resuscitation_CHART

In just three months after embarking on its quality improvement project, the NICU team at Children’s of Alabama exceeded its goal of holding post-resuscitation debriefings after 80 percent of codes.


[1] Wolfe H, Zebuhr C, Topjian AA, et al. Interdisciplinary ICU Cardiac Arrest Debriefing Improves Survival Outcomes Crit Care Med. 2014 Jul; 42(7): 1688–1695.

 

Neonatology

Initiative Targets Pain Management in NICU Babies

neonatology_pain

Adults and children can tell you when they’re in pain. Infants can’t. Which is why Children’s of Alabama is participating in a national quality improvement initiative called Erase Post-Op Pain designed to reduce pain after invasive procedures. The initiative is part of the Children’s Hospital Neonatal Consortium (CHNC), an international group of children’s hospitals dedicated to improving care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

“There is really no ‘gold standard’ for pain assessment in preverbal children,” said NICU Associate Medical Director Allison Black, M.D. “Nor is there much data on the best way to treat pain in neonates.” However, there is data showing that preterm  babies who experience repeated pain can develop physiologic instability, altered brain development and abnormal stress response systems that persists into childhood. “The immature brain can potentially have a more diffuse and exaggerated response to pain,” she said.

The Erase initiative is designed to apply a multidisciplinary approach, including physicians, bedside nurses, pharmacologists, and even parents, to implement a standardized method to assess, document and manage postoperative pain.

The first action the team took was to adopt a single objective pain assessment tool, the N-PASS score, which measures sedation and pain based on vital signs such as heart rate and breathing, as well as behavior such as agitation, crying, facial expressions and neurologic resting tone. “These are things parents can help us assess as well,” Black said. Parents will also complete a survey after each procedure about how well they thought their baby’s pain was assessed and controlled.

The NICU pharmacist worked closely with other team members to develop different guidelines and different algorithms of what medications to use for each specific patient. Each guideline is unique, and the algorithm used depends upon the invasiveness of the procedure, whether the patient has had similar drugs in the past and if they are breathing spontaneously or with the help of assisted ventilation.

“By considering the history of the patient, the type of procedure performed. and looking closely at each drug’s  time to onset and duration of action, the treatment should be more effective,” Black said.

The initiative dovetails nicely with another CHNC performance improvement project, the STEPP-IN initiative. STEPP-IN works to reduce perioperative stress and instability  in NICU patients through improved handoffs and communication. “I think the projects will compliment each another and help improve our overall care of these small infants during the high-risk perioperative period,” Black said.

Babies in Need

Learn more about the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children’s of Alabama.

Neonatology

Baby NINJA: Reducing Acute Kidney Injury One Preemie at a Time

Up to 87% of very low-birthweight infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are exposed to at least one nephrotoxic medication during their stay. About 1 in 4 of those experience at least one episode of acute kidney injury (AKI), which can lead to increased length of stay and mortality. [1], [2], [3] There is also evidence that even a single incidence of AKI increases the risk of chronic kidney disease.[4]

To address this problem, in 2015 Children’s of Alabama began the first initiative in the country designed to reduce the use of nephrotoxic medications in the NICU. The initiative, called “Baby NINJA,” was so successful it is now being validated at several other major children’s hospitals.

The effort builds off the NINJA (Nephrotoxic Injury Negated by Just-in-Time Action) project, a joint endeavor between Children’s and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center that started in 2011 in non-critically ill children. The goal was to ensure that children only receive the nephrotoxic medications that they needed for as long as they needed them, and that their kidney function was closely monitored for any signs of AKI.

The NINJA initiative reduced exposure to nephrotoxic medications by 38% and concomitant AKI by 64%.[5] As a result, last year it was added to the Solutions for Patient Safety consortium and instituted at 147 children’s hospitals worldwide.

The Baby NINJA project at Children’s has demonstrated similarly stellar outcomes, noted Christine Stoops, D.O., assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and the primary investigator on the initiative. In the 18 months after implementing the program, nephrotoxic medication exposure dropped 42% and AKI prevalence fell 78%, she said. Meanwhile, the rate of patients with AKI who had also been exposed to nephrotoxic medications fell 64%, while patients spent 68% fewer days in AKI.

The program’s key players are the two NICU pharmacists, Sadie Stone, PharmD, and Emily Evans, PharmD, who round daily with the multidisciplinary team, which includes  neonatologists and nurse practitioners, to identify at-risk babies, Stoops said. Once identified, a magnet is put on the patient room entryway denoting that the the infant is on “NINJA Watch,” which serves as a reminder to closely review medications. “The success of the program is due to in large part to the strong pharmacist support,” she said.

The pharmacists review a screening report of patients with high NTM exposure each morning and manually verify the exposure. Infants with a high exposure then receive a daily serum creatinine test during and for two days post-exposure or post-AKI resolution, whichever occurred last. During this time, the team discusses possible alternative medications, drug dosages, timing of drug levels, and hydration status. Previously, the infants would have only received the test every three to five days.

“It tells the neonatologist that this kidney is at risk of injury and makes everyone ask, ‘are these the medications the baby needs? Could we adjust them, even if we just reduce the dose? How do we reduce the risk of AKI if they really do need these medications?’” Stoops said. Often, she said, “It’s just a simple act of being mindful about what you’re doing.”    

The NINJA program is now being rolled out throughout Children’s in other intensive care units, and validated at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. 

Help for Children With Kidney Disease

Learn about the Pediatric and Infant Center for Acute Nephrology at Children’s of Alabama.


[1] Rhone ET, Carmody JB, Swanson JR, Charlton JR. Nephrotoxic medication exposure in very low birth weight infants. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2014;27(14):1485-90.

[2] Jetton J, Boohaker L, K Sethi S, Wazir S, Rohatgi S, Soranno D, et al. Incidence and outcomes of neonatal acute kidney injury (AWAKEN): a multicentre, multinational, observational cohort study. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. 2017;1(3):184-94.

[3] Askenazi DJ, Griffin R, McGwin G, Carlo W, Ambalavanan N. Acute kidney injury is independently associated with mortality in very low birthweight infants: a matched case-control analysis. Pediatr Nephrol. 2009;24(5):991-7.

[4] Menon S, Kirkendall ES, Nguyen H, Goldstein SL. Acute kidney injury associated with high nephrotoxic medication exposure leads to chronic kidney disease after 6 months. J Pediatr. 2014;165(3):522-7 e2.

[5] Goldstein SL, Mottes T, Simpson K, et al. A sustained quality improvement program reduces nephrotoxic medication-associated acute kidney injury. Kidney Int. 2016;90(1):212-21.

Neonatology

Uncovering the Role of the Pulmonary Microbiome in Chronic Respiratory Disease

Say the word microbiome and you probably think about the billions of microbes that inhabit the gut. But Children’s of Alabama neonatologist Charitharth Vivek Lal, M.D., wants you to consider another microbiome — the lung microbiome. Not only does it exist, he and his team have discovered, but it is present as early as birth, even at 24 weeks gestation, negating the long-held believe that the lungs are sterile before birth.

The question he is now trying to answer is what role it plays in the chronic lung disease bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), which affects between 48% to 68% of babies born before 28 weeks of gestation. The condition is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in preterm infants, characterized by lung inflammation, injury and pulmonary hypertension, among other factors.[1]

A study from Lal clearly demonstrated that microbial imbalance, or dysbiosis, predicts the development of BPD in extremely low-birthweight newborns. He and his team evaluated the microbiome of several infants at birth and found diverse and similar airway microbiomes in both, which differed from older preterm infants with BPD.

They found that dysbiotic changes in the airway microbiome at birth correlated with the development of BPD, including lower levels of the “good” bacteria lactobacillus in infants born to mothers with chorioamnionitis, an infection of the membranes of the placenta that is an independent risk factor for BPD. They suggested in their paper that a microbiome signature possibly exists in utero, and that part of its role may be to prime the pulmonary immune system. If dysbiosis occurs, they wrote, “it may set the stage for subsequent lung disease.”

So, said Lal, what about a respiratory probiotic to restore the microbiome?

“If it relieves inflammation, could we use this to replace steroids in various childhood lung diseases?” he asked. Studies in mice using Dr. Lal’s patented ‘respiratory probiotics’ demonstrate benefits. “The next step is to test it in larger animals and then humans,” he said.


[1] Lal CV, Bhandari V, Ambalavanan N.Genomics, Microbiomics, Proteomics and Metabolomics in Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia. Semin Perinatol. 2018 Nov;42(7):425-431.

[2] Lal CV, Kandasamy J, Ramani M, Ambalavanan N. Metabolomic and Metagenomic Signatures of Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2018 Aug 16.

[3] Lal CV, Olave N, Travers C, Halloran H, Rezonzew G, Xu X, Genschmer K, Russell D, Gaggar A, Blalock E, Vineet Bhandari, Ambalavanan N. Exosomal MicroRNA 876-3p Predicts and Protects Against Severe Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia in Extremely Preterm Infants. JCI Insight, 2018; 3(5: e93994). PMID: 29515035

Care for the Tiniest Patients

Learn more about the Department of Neonatology at Children’s of Alabama.

Neonatology

NeuroNICU B.R.A.I.N. Program Aims to Improve Outcomes in High-Risk Neonates

Neonatology_Care Protocols

Preterm infants born at 30 weeks or earlier are at higher risk for developing intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH), which is associated with long-term neurocognitive deficits. The risk is also higher for infants with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), those undergoing ECMO therapy, or those with seizures, metabolic disorders or stroke. Now, a new initiative in the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Division of Neonatology called NeuroNICU B.R.A.I.N. (Brain Rescue and Avoidance of Injury in Neonates) aims to prevent or reduce that risk.

The core of the initiative is a multidisciplinary team of professionals who work to provide neurodevelopmental care for infants at risk for developing brain injury and cognitive deficits. The team includes a pediatric neurologist, pediatric rehabilitation medicine specialist, pediatric neuro-radiologist, neonatal nurse practitioners, nurse manager, physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, respiratory therapist and nurse champions. The program also makes parents an integral part of the team.

“We all come together every week and discuss every baby on the unit,” said Allison Black, M.D., NICU associate medical director at Children’s of Alabama. “Before the NeuroNICU program, we would consult individually on an as-needed basis.”

Even though an infant may not need every aspect of care, she said, “everyone working together to integrate the different expertise we have in our field will result in better care for the babies.” The program also uses a standardized bundle of care designed to stabilize the infant and carefully monitor for clinical signs that can increase the risk of IVH.

“The process for the brain injury prevention program starts at birth and continues throughout the entire hospital stay,” said Maran Ramani, M.D., who directs the NeuroNICU program. The protocols call for preventing hypothermia, hypoglycemia and extreme variations in the blood pressure and carbon dioxide levels, and for maintaining fluid intake, all with minimal stimulation. Once discharged, all infants are followed long-term and continually assessed for developmental milestones, he said.

In addition to multidisciplinary care, the program provides near infrared spectroscopy monitoring for preterm and term infants to assess the oxygen saturations in the brain. It also uses transcutaneous CO2 monitoring for preterm infants to assess variations in serum CO2 levels, which plays a critical role in the development of IVH. Term and preterm infants also receive a head ultrasound in to screen for IVH, while preterm infants with grade III and IV IVH undergo   conventional electroencephalogram to detect subclinical seizures. Finally, infants with HIE have an MRI with spectroscopy to assess any damage.

Despite the multifactorial etiology of IVH, Ramani said, standardizing the neuroprotective care is reducing the overall rate of IVH in preterm infants (Figure 1).

Figure 1           Rate of IVH Before and After NeuroNICU B.R.A.I.N. Program

Neonatology Care Protocols Chart

Arrow indicates NeuroNICU roll out

Managing Neurologic Disorders
Visit www.uab.edu/medicine/peds/patient-care/neuro-related-programs-centers to learn about the Division of Pediatric Neurology’s subspecialty clinics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

 

Neonatology

Joined at the Hip

Neonatology_Hip

The sky bridges connecting the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Women & Infants Center and Children’s of Alabama provide more than a means of travel from point A to B. For the UAB/Children’s Division of Neonatology, the sky bridges not only facilitate seamless clinical care, but also seamless research collaborations.

“It’s a tremendous benefit,” said Trent Tipple, M.D., UAB associate professor of pediatrics, director of neonatology faculty development and co-director of the Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine Fellowship Training Program. “The integration is one that just makes sense. It eliminates a lot of barriers that can make research frustrating and allows one to focus on designing the best study with the necessary personnel; to really think about how to execute a study rather than whether a study can be done.”

“It’s one of the unique features here. UAB’s Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Children’s NICU are literally joined at the hip,” said Namasivayam Ambalavanan, M.D., UAB professor of pediatrics, neonatology division co-director, director of the Translational Research in Normal & Disordered Development (TReNDD) Program at UAB and principal investigator of the UAB Research Center. “This makes clinical care a lot better and research also improves.”

Carl “Tim” Coghill, M.D., UAB professor of pediatrics and medical director of Children’s NICU, said the physical proximity not only serves as a benefit to clinicians and researchers, but also patient families facing what can be a stressful experience.

“Many freestanding children’s hospitals are blocks away from their associated delivery units, making it difficult for consultants to see the infants without transfer away from the mother,” Coghill said. “Children’s of Alabama used to be two blocks from UAB with no connecting bridge. With the present bridge, the closest NICU bed at UAB is only 75 feet from the nearest NICU bed at Children’s, which is closer than some beds are to each other in other respective units.”

Coghill continued, “The ability to stay with a nursing staff that you know and a hospital that you are familiar with while continuing to get the best care is a confidence builder, and delivering great care is only good enough if it is perceived to be great care by the patients and families as well.”

As a founding member of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Neonatal Research Network (NRN), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), UAB/Children’s is consistently one of the top centers in developing, leading, enrolling and analyzing randomized controlled trials and clinical studies. For example, neonatology division members have led three major innovative NRN studies – the SAVE Factorial Trial, the Cytokine Study and the SUPPORT Factorial Trial. A fourth trial led by UAB/Children’s neonatologists testing the effects of caffeine late in the neonatal course and at home to shorten hospitalization and decrease apparent life threatening events began enrollment this year.

In its more than 30 years of existence, the NRN has defined the standards of multi-institutional collaborative research resulting in increased survival and decreased morbidity rates of extremely low birth weight infants and other critically ill infants in the U.S. Wally Carlo, M.D., Edwin M. Dixon Endowed Chair in Neonatology and neonatology division co-director, and Ambalavanan are principal investigators for the NRN and have led nationwide studies on ventilator care, antenatal steroids, chronic lung disease and neurodevelopment outcomes. A study in the NRN published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that neonatal mortality has been decreased over the last 10 years, including decreases in almost all specific causes of neonatal mortality, because of improvements in care implemented in the NRN centers.

In addition, UAB/Children’s is the only facility in the U.S. to be awarded grants in all three perinatal networks from the NICHD – the NRN, the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network and the Global Network for Women’s and Children’s Health Research. For more than two decades, these networks have awarded UAB/Children’s more than $20 million to fund research for pregnant women and babies. The most recent grants, awarded in 2016, will bring a total $1.1 million per year through 2021.

Under the Global Network, UAB/Children’s researchers have led seminal investigations of resuscitation and essential newborn care in 100 communities in six countries, which included almost 200,000 infants. These trials established the effectiveness of these interventions in reducing stillbirths and neonatal mortality, and led to worldwide implementation of training, including the globally-implemented Helping Babies Breathe Program and the Essential Care for Every Baby Program launched in 2014. The programs have been introduced in more than 75 countries to save babies’ lives at birth, with the potential to reduce infant deaths soon after birth by 1 million.

“It should save a million lives every single year at almost no cost,” Carlo said of the programs. “It will save the most lives in the world.”

Division of Neonatology
Learn more about the Division of Neonatology, including specialty clinics and faculty bios, at https://www.childrensal.org/neonatology.