CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. – Celebrated internationally on November 17, World Prematurity Day aims to raise awareness of the challenges faced by children born preterm and their families.
The World Health Organization estimates 15 million infants are born preterm, or before 37 weeks of pregnancy, with complications from preterm birth among the leading causes of death in children under five.
But this isn’t just a problem in faraway places or in developing nations; the CDC estimates one out of every ten infants born in the United States is born prematurely and that preterm birth is the leading cause of long-term neurological disabilities in children.
These are medical risks and complications Dr. Joseph McDermott, who practices family medicine at WellSpan Family Medicine– Mercersburg knew well through his medical training and from caring for his patients with various needs. However, they were not something he had ever imagined becoming so familiar with first-hand.
June 22, 2016, wasn’t meant to be his daughter, Parker’s birthday. Her due date was still a month away, but his wife Ellen developed a sudden and serious pregnancy complication and needed an emergency caesarean.
The couple didn’t even have a hospital bag packed, and quickly found themselves with more questions than answers after their daughter was born prematurely, and in need of specialized care inside WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit.
“My mind was going a million miles a minute,” Dr. McDermott explained. “My newborn baby was in the NICU, and my wife was in the Operating Room, and I was so torn, not knowing where I should go, or whose hand I should hold.”
Despite the initial flurry of activity, the McDermott’s were able to stay close to baby Parker and take in her tiny beauty.
“It was just amazing to see her full head of hair and hear that first cry,” Dr. McDermott said.
And while the delivery was far from what they had expected, Ellen McDermott says she had always planned to deliver at Chambersburg Hospital, because she wanted the security of knowing there was specialized newborn care close-by in case her daughter might need it.
“The Chambersburg Hospital NICU will always hold a special place close to our heart. The doctors and nursing staff helped ease our worries as first-time parents to a premature baby and included us in every step of Parker’s care. I truly feel having the NICU at our local hospital and allowing me to be so close to Parker while we both recovered only strengthened our bond. Joe and I feel so blessed to live and work in this community,” she said
Before Chambersburg Hospital opened the unit in 2016, babies born prematurely or with complications often had to be flown to other facilities, meaning a separation from their still recovering mothers.
The McDermott’s also chose to share their daughter’s story to spread awareness about preterm birth, and to let others know the services available in this community to care for premature newborns.
Parker is now an extremely active 3-year-old who just started preschool, loves music, her two kittens (Jack and Jill) and playing doctor.