Friday, December 12, 2014 12:00 AM

Donors are 'HeROs' too

Born weighing 1 lb. 12 oz., Ava Elizabeth Powell needed more than just the heroic actions of doctors and nurses at Community Regional Medical Center’s Level 3 neonatal intensive care unit to survive. She needed the constant and specialized monitoring of a HeRO.

The HeRO, or Heart Rate Observer, tracks tiny variations in heart rates with clear, detailed displays that help caregivers detect early signs of distress or infection and respond immediately. In a study of 3,000 premature babies, the HeRO reduced the mortality rate by 20%, according to a report published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2011. It made all the difference for Ava, whose heart was monitored by the HeRO for more than 60 days during the five months she spent in the in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Community Regional.

NICU staff are so happy when patients they cared for come back to visit like Andrea Powell and baby Ava who spent more than 5 months in the NICU and was helped by more than 60 days of monitoring on the specialized HeRO, or Heart Rate Observer.

Now thanks to generous donor-investors, even more preterm babies have a HeRO keeping watch on their fragile health. Gifts to the 84-bed, Level 3 NICU helped the hospital purchase 25 more HeROs this past year, doubling the number of newborns that can be monitored.

“It is truly an example of technology saving lives,” said Community Regional Neonatologist Anand Rajani.  “We’ve seen the HeRO monitor aid us in identifying a number of babies that we would not have suspected as being sick, because their infection was detected early.”

The HeRO monitor is like “the voice for infants who can’t speak for themselves,” said Cardiologist J. Randall Moorman in a Medical News Today report. Dr. Moorman is the device’s co-inventor and was one of the University of Virginia researchers in the multi-hospital study of its effectiveness.

Nationwide, nearly half of extremely low-weight babies – those weighing less than 3 ½ lbs. at birth – develop sepsis, a deadly bacterial infection, and it’s one of the leading causes of death among babies in the NICU. Sepsis has few clear symptoms in its early states so it’s very difficult to diagnose – except through subtle changes in heart rates that can occur half a day before other signs of infection.

Community Regional ranked second in the state last year for delivering the most babies weighing under 3 lbs. 5 oz. The hospital serves as the high-risk pregnancy and birthing center for a five county region.

Donna McCloudy, Community Regional’s director of NICU and pediatrics, is grateful to have enough technology now to monitor the babies who might need it: “When we only had the ability to monitor 25 babies it was hard to determine which baby should be on the monitor … there is no way to predict how many of these potential at-risk patients there may be at any time.”

Now, patients like Ava Elizabeth have even more of a fighting chance to go home healthy.

“We were able to see her overcome obstacles,” said Ava’s mother, Andrea Powell, who was thankful for the doctors, nurses and technology that helped her tiny daughter and her family heal.

“We built amazing relationships with the staff and appreciated the family centered care.”

This story was reported by Ginny Joslin and Erin Kennedy. Reach them at MedWatchToday@CommunityMedical.org.