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Millions of babies born prematurely each year

World Prematurity Day raises awareness of issues these babies face

ROANOKE, Va. – Every year more than 15 million babies are born prematurely worldwide. Friday is World Prematurity Day, a time to raise awareness about the potential health issues and increased care that is needed for babies born before 37 weeks gestation. 

Peter and Lindsay Hayes have been staying at the Ronald McDonald House since early October, while their newborn baby Lynnleigh is just a couple of blocks away in the Carilion neonatal intensive care unit.

The couple from Christiansburg says doctors warned them that her pregnancy with high-risk from early on. Having already given birth to another premature baby, her risk of delivering Lynnleigh early was 1/3 higher than average. 

At just 27 weeks and six days, Lindsay's water broke and she was rushed to Carilion. Doctors waited as long as possible to deliver the baby, giving her more time to grow and develop and her mom's womb. Nine days later, Lynnleigh was born at just two pounds and 11 ounces. 

"I don't think anyone is really prepared in a sense," says Peter. "it doesn't matter whether the baby is born premature or full-time."

Peter and Lindsay say it's amazing to see the progress their baby has made. Peter still travels back and forth to the New River Valley for work, but because of their room at the Ronald McDonald House, he is still able to spend time with his daughter every day. Lindsay says it's amazing being just two blocks away from the hospital and knowing she can be there in just minutes at any point, day or night. 

They say the care they have received at the Ronald McDonald House has been incredible. It's a cause they say will always be close their hearts, and one they will continue to support long after they take Lynnleigh home. 

Their support system of family and friends is also a big part of what the Hayes say has helped him get through the past month. Before Lynnleigh was even born, they had a friend reach out who had been through a similar situation, spending time at Carilion after their baby was born prematurely. 

"He said I know you're hearing all of this scary stuff and the NICU seems like such a scary place, but miracles happen there," says Lindsay. "He said you're going to look back on it and not see it as a scary negative place, because so much of that is going to happen and come from it."

Doctors at the Carilion neonatal intensive care unit care for babies born prematurely from a more than 400 square mile area. Babies born prematurely in the Roanoke Valley, New River Valley, Southside, Central Virginia and border states like North Carolina and West Virginia are all brought to Carilion for care. 

In all, the unit treats more than 750 babies born prematurely each year. Growing technology is constantly changing the way doctors and nurses are working to take care of these tiny patients. 

One of the newest technologies is a specialized giraffe bad, made to regulate body heat in a womb-like atmosphere. The machine allows doctors and nurses to still administer care, without changing the environment that babies are in.

Doctors are also using more simple treatments, like in the CPAP Unit, which offers a constant pressure of air or oxygen that keeps the longs open, while allowing to baby to do all of their own breathing. Doctor Hiren Patel says technology like this has helped keep babies off of respirators when they're not needed, and reduces the average stay for premature babies from 30 days down to about 22. 

But for prematurely born babies who often face or higher risk of health problems, affecting the brain, lungs, hearing or vision, one of the most important factors in their treatment plan is the teamwork throughout the hospital. 

"I can comfortably pick up the phone, call a cardiologist at 2 a.m., and say, "Hey, i've got a baby that I think might have a heart condition," says Patel. "And they're supportive with what the children need."

Doctors and nurses also make sure parents are an integral part of that care as well. They take time to teach the parents important lessons, instead of just stepping in and taking over.

"It's really empowering the parents to be a part of their child's care," says Mandy Allen, the unit director of the neonatal intensive care unit. "Teaching them from day one how you can help us change the diaper, how you can help us check the child's temperature."

For more information on Carilion's neonatal intensive care unit and how you can support the program, click here. 

Here's a link to more information on the Ronald McDonald House.

Courtesy Hayes family