PEI

New incubator for neonatal ICU will keep more babies on P.E.I.

A new special bed for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital neonatal intensive-care unit will mean doctors can keep more sick and preterm babies on the Island.

Wo-He-Lo within $10,000 of fundraising goal for Giraffe OmniBed

Dr. Beth Ellen Brown, neonatologist at the QEH in Charlottetown, says the smallest babies are often weighed twice a day, every 12 hours, and the new incubator has a scale built into it. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

A new special incubator for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital neonatal intensive-care unit will mean doctors can keep more sick and preterm babies on the Island.

"We're super, super, super excited and beyond grateful to have had the Wo-He-Lo group fundraise for the Giraffe OmniBed," said Dr. Beth Ellen Brown, neonatologist at the QEH in Charlottetown.

"This is a very unique and specialized piece of equipment that's going to enable us to further care for smaller, more preterm and sicker babies here in Charlottetown, that we would have previously had to send out to the IWK and ICU."

Brown said the incubator is designed to replicate the environment that the baby experiences inside the mother's belly.

Brown says the goal is to have the OmniBed fully operational in October. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"It allows us to provide warmth to babies. It allows us to provide humidity to babies to make sure that they stay warm enough and can use their energy to grow," Brown said.

"It allows us to be able to see the baby at all times, it's a clear incubator. It allows us to have access to the baby from all different directions immediately."

Reduces stress for babies

Brown said the OmniBed incubator also reduces the stress on babies in the neonatal intensive-care unit.

Brown described the environment inside the unit as like a tropical rain forest.

Brown says the incubator is designed to replicate the environment that the baby experiences inside the mother's belly. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"Babies who are born early, their whole body is immature, so not just their lungs and their heart and their brain, but also their skin, which is the biggest organ in our body and skin is really important because that's what helps keep us hydrated," Brown said.

"So they lose a lot of heat, they lose a lot of water and that means that they they don't grow as well. They can get very dehydrated very quickly and they can get very cold."

Brown says getting another specialized bed is at the top of her wish list for the provincial neonatalogy service. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Brown said the smallest babies are often weighed twice a day, every 12 hours, and the new incubator has a scale built into it.

"We don't have to move the baby other than lift them up two inches off the bed," Brown said.

"Right now, if a baby needs to be weighed, we actually have to physically take the baby out of the incubator, move them and all their wires to a scale, which can be a very stressful experience for babies."

Fundraising pivot

The Wo-He-Lo group had been fundraising for the new incubator, before the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to cancel both the spring and fall clothing fundraisers.

Wo-He-Lo president Mary MacMillan says seeing the new incubator makes all the fundraising efforts worthwhile. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"We still wanted to honour our commitment for this wonderful machine, which cost $72,000," said Wo-He-Lo president Mary MacMillan.

"We had raised some money last fall through our last sale, but we still owed about $40,000 so we decided we looked at different options and we thought our best bet would be to have an online campaign."

That campaign has raised $30,000 so far, with just another $10,000 to go to meet its target. 

Top of wish list

The sides of the incubator fold down to allow access to the baby from all sides, if needed. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Brown said getting another specialized bed is at the top of her wish list for the provincial neonatalogy service.

"We recognize we won't be able to care for every baby on P.E.I. and there are still babies that will have to go off Island," Brown said. 

"But our goal is even for those babies who have to go, that we're able to bring them back sooner.

The top of the incubator can lift up to allow easier access to the baby. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"Babies who used to have to stay for two or three months at the IWK," Brown said, "they may be able to come back after four to six weeks, to really cut down on that time away from home."

Brown said the goal is to have the OmniBed incubator fully operational in October.

More from CBC P.E.I.

About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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