Taking care of our own: Neonatologists pioneer Kootenai Health’s NICU

Photo courtesy of NICOLE DORAME
Twins, Gracie and Charlie McVey, featured on huge billboards around North Idaho wearing red and green Christmas hats, were the first set of premature twins cared for under 34 weeks at Kootenai.

By SHANE RICHARD BELL

Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press

When a baby is born at Kootenai Health, chimes ring throughout the building. The father of the child usually rings the chimes, announcing to the world the arrival of a new life.

“That’s the community celebrating the birth of a baby,” said Dr. Kathleen Webb, one of three neonatologists at Kootenai’s budding Neonatal Intensive Care program.

The chimes were the first addition doctors Kathleen Webb and Priscilla Hancock made after getting an affirmative from Jon Ness, CEO of Kootenai Health, to begin developing Kootenai’s NICU less than two years ago.

“I’ve had a lot of experience caring for patients,” said Webb. “But this is the first time I’ve been able to build a program. They didn’t teach us that in medical school, but it’s been so fun and satisfying.”

Webb’s journey as a neonatologist has been a process of many steps, big and small.

“It takes up a lot of time and energy to do this well,” Webb said.

Kootenai Health Neonatologist Dr. Kathleen Webb

She completed her fellowship in 1993 in Syracuse, New York, has worked with babies for 26 years and seen 10,000 newborns. “I love this program. And I love babies,” Webb said. “Taking care of infants has been my foremost professional passion in life.”

Twins, Gracie and Charlie McVey, featured on huge billboards around North Idaho wearing red and green Christmas hats, were the first set of premature twins cared for under 34 weeks at Kootenai.

Those twins embody the 2012 Festival of Tree’s cause.

“We’re thrilled,” said Webb, about the upcoming Festival of Trees and its pledge to donate the proceeds to the NICU. “Special care nurseries are isolated. Often people don’t even know that they’re here until they need them.”

“We need to get the word out that we can keep our babies right here. Born in Idaho,” says Webb, enunciating every word with a full-faced smile and bright eyes.

“If the community knows about it, they can support it,” Webb said. Imagine how stressful is for a woman to have a baby prematurely and then travel to another state for her care.”

Before doctors Webb and Hancock, and their newest addition, Dr. Kimberly Judd, the birthing center at Kootenai was a level one nursery.

The center is expanding with improved medical equipment, enhanced technology and additional staff. With three neonatologists on staff, there is a neonatologist available for every high-risk birth.

“We’re a level two nursery now,” says Webb, “and we’re raising the quality of care for all babies who are born here.”

“My hope is that by 2016, we’re able to provide an even higher level of care in the setting of a full-intensive care unit. We want a women’s and children’s center. The gateway to a successful hospital is often through the mothers of our babies.  So if a mom has a good experience, she’ll bring her family back.”

Webb believes that with the support of the community, her staff can make the neonatal program at Kootenai Health part of a nationally recognized regional medical center serving the needs of North Idaho’s people.

“We’ve got the people, and we’re building the expertise,” says Webb, “but what we need help with is purchasing equipment. We lack facilities and equipment and that’s how the Festival of Trees can help.”

“We must take care of parents and their babies. We take care of our own,” Webb said. “And that’s how we keep our community together. When you’re caring for a baby, you’re caring for a whole family.”

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