Why P.E.I. babies need these new $6K light-therapy blankets, and more equipment

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown is planning to purchase three more specialized blankets called biliblankets that use light therapy to treat jaundice in newborns.

Dozens more pre-term babies are being kept at QEH now and need lots of specialized equipment

Lindsay Metzger with her baby Eleanor Metzger use a biliblanket at the QEH in Charlottetown. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown is planning to purchase three more specialized blankets called biliblankets that use light therapy to treat jaundice in newborns.

The hospital currently has two biliblankets, but needs more.

"This is a condition that a lot of babies have," said Kathy Larter, the nurse-manager of the QEH obstetrical department. When babies have too much bilirubin in their blood it can be harmful, and the light in biliblankets is used to break it down, just like sunlight, she said.  

"The whole goal is to treat the baby, but keep mother and baby together," Larter said.

She said even with five blankets, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) could use even more in weeks when there are lots of babies born. 

Cost is $6K each

Lindsay Metzger just gave birth to baby Eleanor Quinn Metzger, who needs to be treated for jaundice. 

Newborn Eleanor Quinn Metzger's eyes are shielded with a tiny mask from the bright light of the biliblanket. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Metzger said she is grateful the QEH has biliblankets available. They look like a soft flexible mattress with lights inside. 

"Essentially it just has a light underneath and the baby just kind of sits overtop of it. You can cover her with blankets," Metzger explained. "She's cosy, she's doing great, she doesn't seem to be minding it at all."

This is life-saving equipment.— Tracey Comeau

Metzger, who is a nurse practitioner, can cuddle and feed her newborn while she's being treated. 

"Bonding is so important in the early days, skin-to-skin contact is so important, and just being able to facilitate with the blanket is awesome," Metzger said. 

The blankets cost $6,000 each. The hospital will buy them with funds donated through the QEH Foundation's major annual fundraising campaign, which is focusing this year on raising money for equipment for newborns in the NICU.   

Hoping to raise $600K with online telethon

The foundation is pleased and grateful for donations for the blankets, said CEO Tracey Comeau. 

'We really need donors collectively to help fund those high-priced items,' says Tracey Comeau, CEO of the QEH Foundation. (Laura Meader/CBC)

She said there are many more needs in the NICU like beds and equipment for feeding and monitoring newborns. For instance specialized medication scales cost $7,000.  

"This is life-saving equipment," Comeau said. "We really need donors collectively to help fund those high-priced items ... we do not want to have to travel off-Island for care." 

Many donors have a personal connection to the hospital, like Wendy Wittenberg and Tim Rob of Mobile Market Research, who donated to the biliblanket campaign because their son benefited from one at another hospital.

"We were very dependent on it, and when we saw the picture it immediately reminded us of Alec and how he looked the first three weeks," said Rob.

Thanks to such donations as well as developments in neonatal care, more sick and pre-term babies born after 30 weeks' gestation have been able to stay on P.E.I. the last couple of years, Larter said.

The NICU has been able to keep about 50 babies on the Island that normally would have needed to be treated out-of-province.

"We want to keep our families here on P.E.I., we want to keep mothers and babies together, so this equipment is allowing us to do that," Larter said.

The foundation buys most of the equipment at the hospital, and this is a big month for its campaign — it's holding an online telethon it is calling a stream-a-thon May 30, and Comeau said the foundation hopes that will raise $600,000.  

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Laura Meader


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