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‘Could not be any more grateful’
Northside Forsyth's NICU helps hospital’s smallest patients
Northside’s NICU
Christine Rojas holds her son, Uriah Carrillo, in their room at Northside Hospital-Forsyth’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. About 15 babies are at the center at any given time. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

In mid- August, Christine Rojas was admitted to the high-risk pregnancy unit at Northside Hospital-Forsyth after having back pain that she took to mean her baby was on the way.

On Aug. 31, her son, Uriah Carrillo, was born after only 28 weeks of gestation, 12 weeks earlier than a normal pregnancy. After months of around the clock care from hospital staff at the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, both mom and baby are doing great.

“He’s in a lot more stable condition than he was before,” Rojas said. “There was a good time there we didn’t know what his face looked like. They had everything on him to make sure he was able to breathe properly and he had jaundice, so it was just a number of things that they managed very well.”

Rojas is not alone in her journey. 

In 2003, the March of Dimes designated November as prematurity awareness month.

About 3,200 babies were born at Northside Hospital-Forsyth last year and 10-12 percent were born prematurely. 

“That’s about the nationwide average,” said Special Care Nursery Clinical Manager Sandra Grady.

When born, babies are given one of three levels of health: Level I means a birth with no complications, level II is for any baby born after 32 weeks needing medical attention and level III, the most severe, is for babies born after at least 22 weeks at any severity.

The unit, part of the hospital’s Women’s Center, has about 15 babies at any given time, though not all were born in Forsyth.

“We do take transports in as well,” Grady said. “For instance [Northside] Cherokee is a level II and if they have a level III baby, they can send their babies here. Also, during [Hurricane Irma] we had some babies that came from Savannah and stayed with us five or six days while they were evacuating.”

Northside’s NICU
Mother LaRoie Ann Zimmermann holds and soothes her son, Grayson, on their last day at the NICU after having arrived in June. - photo by Kelly Whitmire
The NICU has five full-time neonatologists, along with nurse practitioners and specialists including physical therapists, feeding therapists, dieticians and a NICU pharmacist.

“Our infant meds and our adult meds don’t cross, so that significantly reduces the opportunity for medication errors,” said Women’s Center Manager Melissa Sugg.

Once babies are admitted to the center, they stay in one room and nurses and equipment come to them. 

“They’re admitted to their own private room then they stay in that room until they’re discharged,” Grady said.  “Some hospitals have it where every time you improve you have to move to a new spot. We change the equipment and the baby gets to stay.”

Staying in one spot can help families in a tough and scary situation.

“Whenever he needed an X-ray or an ultrasound, it was the coolest thing … they come in the room to do the X-ray that he needs, which is amazing because he doesn’t have to go anywhere, which would be another worry for me,” Rojas said. 

Like Rojas, LaRoie Ann Zimmermann spent time in the pregnancy center — about a month — before son Grayson was born in July. Zimmermann said she was not expecting the extended stay.

“I was coming in for a checkup thinking everything was great and they were like, yeah, no you’re going to stay here,” she said. “I was in the HRP unit for about a month until I had him.”

Sugg said a major consideration for the hospital is creating a community feel with the parents.

“We work closely with labor and delivery and family-centered care,” she said. “We focus on the family, so we have private rooms. The nurses develop personal relationships with the families, so we see a lot of families coming back. They stay in touch with the nurses because we’re here with them and they’re part of the care.”

For Rojas, that has not gone unnoticed. 

Due to their small size, premature babies can face issues with changing diapers, feeding from bottles and being held, as they are too small to be rocked. 

Rojas said nurses and other staff walked her through those steps, answered her questions and told her about experiences with their own premature children.

 “My nurses here, I swear I remember every single one of their names because you could not be any more grateful,” Rojas said. “(Uriah is) here and that’s the most important thing, and being able to come and see him every day has been what gives me hope because I get to see every day that he is improving and he’s doing better.”

The efforts put forward by the hospital were clear for Zimmermann as it was Grayson’s last day in the center after four months for him and five for her.

“I’m ecstatic. I’m nervous, too, but I feel ready. I feel like I’ve been through the worst, I’ve seen the worst that I could possibly see in a preemie,” she said. “I definitely would say I’m more excited than anything and my husband is too.”

In 2003, the March of Dimes designated November as prematurity awareness month.