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 Summit Primary Care – 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 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.
“I was so grateful to be in the same hospital as my baby, even though I couldn’t hold her right away, I knew she was near me, and that was really important,” she said.
Before Chambersburg Hospital opened the unit in January, 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 home, healthy, and happy, and her parents say they remain grateful for the care they all got by the NICU staff, and to honor that care, recently donated to support the Family Tree, a display in the lobby of the Family Birthing Unit. Community members can add a leaf, heart, or branch with their child’s name and birthdate by donating to the project, which supports Family Birthing Services.