Englewood, NJ. (January 23, 2012) –Keira Pressley of New York City may have come into this world as a very little girl, but the story of the first seven weeks of her life is as great as the love that welcomed her.
Nothing prepared Keira’s parents, Ileana Valle and Keddy Pressley, for what would transpire when Ileana suddenly developed complications requiring an emergency Cesarean section. Keira, just two pounds and 14.5 inches long at birth, was delivered two and a half months early on October 14, 2011 with breathing problems and other difficulties common to such fragile infants.
Concerns about the baby’s care increased when staff at the hospital where Keira was born informed Ileana that they would not honor her wishes to have her daughter treated without blood transfusions. The situation worsened when attempts to transfer her to area children’s hospitals failed, as each one contacted declined Keira’s care under those circumstances.
Fortunately, the family was familiar with the world-renowned transfusion-free program at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey, a global leader in bloodless care. It had been just a few months before that a family member was successfully treated at the hospital for a serious blood disorder without ever receiving a transfusion. At her parent’s request, Keira was transferred to its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to become the patient of neonatologists Elizabeth B. Carlin, MD, chief of Neonatology at the Medical Center, and Howard S. Mazin, MD.
Indeed, the New Jersey hospital has earned its place as an expert in transfusion-free medicine and surgery. Its prominence in the specialty is rooted in two decades of experience in treating patients without the use of blood transfusions. What began as a rare commitment to individuals whose religious beliefs prohibited blood transfusions has evolved into a discipline with vast health implications, as awareness of the shortcomings and dangers of blood transfusions increases. Today, a relatively small percentage of patients at Englewood Hospital receive blood transfusions due to advanced protocols that diminish the need for such.
Specialists at the hospital believed that treating Keira without giving her blood was the best course of action possible. “I am thankful that we were well equipped to provide the best care for Keira and grateful that we could give the family exactly what they wanted,” Dr. Mazin said. “The fact that we respected their religious beliefs meant a lot to them and laid the groundwork for mutual trust. However, the goal is to treat all infants in Keira’s condition transfusion-free. It is simply the best option.”
Keira was in critical condition and already anemic when admitted, her blood count having dropped severely from birth. The baby was treated very aggressively with intravenous iron and high-dose erythropoietin, a medicine that stimulates red blood cell production. In addition, the team drew as little blood from the baby as possible.
The staff optimized early nutrition by rapidly advancing Keira from intravenous nutrition to her mother’s breast milk. Breast milk was fed exclusively to the baby by feeding tube until she was strong and mature enough to nurse. Her condition improved quickly as the nutrition and medication took effect. Finally, after almost seven weeks of loving care and exceptional medicine, Keira was discharged, healthy and robust at 17.5 inches and almost four pounds.
From the moment Keira arrived at Englewood Hospital, the hospital lived up to its reputation for extraordinary care in a family-centered setting, said Ileana. “I was at the hospital six days of every week for seven weeks. I saw the babies come and go, and I saw the love.” Although it was heartbreaking to leave each day for home, she always knew her tiny daughter was in good hands.
“It was as though Keira had many aunts, uncles and other caring family members there,” she continued. “They held her as I do…. Through the entire process we felt comforted, heard, and welcomed. We became like family.”
The care and caring extended to Ileana too. “You would have thought I was a superstar,” she said. She was provided with a bounty of “care, love and attention,” and her role in Keira’s care was deeply respected and nurtured. The importance of breastfeeding was emphasized, teaching Ileana how to take care of the baby was a top priority, and keeping the family well informed on a proactive basis was of utmost importance to the staff. “They spoke to me about her from head to toe. They were able to soothe my fears without the words coming out of my mouth,” said Ileana.
Maintaining a good relationship with the family is extremely important in an infant’s care, said Dr. Carlin. “We meet with the family on a daily basis to discuss the day’s plan and long-term goals, and to keep the lines of communication open. We also strive to make sure the parents feel comfortable when they take the baby home.”
Grandmother Mary Valle echoes her daughter’s gratitude for the outstanding care Keira received. “It was October 16th when my husband and I followed the ambulance to the NICU at Englewood. We prayed, we cried, and then we felt a measure of calmness when greeted by Dr. Carlin’s unbelievable NICU staff, led by Dr. Mazin and all the nurses.
“The professionalism, the cutting edge medical procedures that Englewood offers are outstanding,” continued Mary. “The love, comfort and caring that they gave to our little person has proven to be among the best medicine she could have received. It was a very long seven weeks. We traveled over the George Washington Bridge many times, but we always left the hospital knowing that she was being taken care of and she was progressing well.”
“Caring for babies like Keira is a privilege,” said Dr. Carlin. “It is a uniquely rewarding experience knowing an infant has thrived and is well enough to go home.”