NISKAYUNA, N.Y. (NEWS10) — This weekend is the big March of Dimes Walk for Babies, and one of the teams raising funds and awareness of premature birth is also on the front lines of caring for the smallest of newborns.
The team was started by Dr. Phillip Pan, NICU Director at Ellis Medicine Bellevue Woman’s Center. He has been a neonatologist for 15 years. In that time he has cared for babies born as early as 23 weeks.
“When I walk, I probably think of a handful of babies,” he said. “When I started in pediatrics, it really was about the children, and maybe as I’ve gotten older and become a parent myself, a lot of what I do in terms of how I speak with people really is as a parent.”
Dr. Pan helps parents deal with what is a roller coaster ride after premature birth: the emotional swings of not being able to go home with your baby and the fear of what complications could come. Over the long weeks in the NICU, patients bond with staff.
“Our nurses become attached, like they are part of their family,” says NICU Nurse Manager Kate Staalesen.
Like Dr. Pan, she has seen how the March of Dimes has helped, both with direct support to families in the NICU and funding research that’s improved the care of preemie babies.
“We don’t give babies oxygen like we used to,” Staalesen says. “And it’s helped with their eyesight, things like that, little minor things, that make a world of difference with our babies.”
“They helped research for surfactant, which again really revolutioned neonatology. Surfactant is a substance that coats the inside of the air sacs in the lungs. It helps keep those air sacs open so they don’t collapse causing worsening respiratory problems,” Dr. Pan added.
They bring a team from Ellis Medicine Bellevue Woman’s Center every year to the March of Dimes walk to keep that research moving forward. Lactation consultant Kelsey Munn is new to the team this year, but she saw in her previous job with WIC, the federal program providing food for woman and infants, how prematurity can alter a parent’s relationship with their babies after they left the hospital.
“I just saw more bonding with the parents that had more education, that had more support,” Munn recalled. “That had someone standing behind them constantly making sure that everything is going to be okay.”
While the walk is a visible part of Bellevue’s connection with the March of Dimes, they meet year round after the fundraiser to see how to give every baby the best possible start.
Staalesen points out, “The March of Dimes is a natural extension of what we do because we take care of the babies and the families, and the March of Dimes just comes in and gives us the support we need and the support the parents need.”
“March of Dimes, again, is a program I’m very passionate about, ” notes Dr. Pan. “It is talking about babies, families, mothers and making sure everyone has a healthy pregnancy.”
This year’s walk is on Saturday at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. Registration begins at 10 a.m.