Caring for the most vulnerable Preemies, abandoned babies and new-borns suffering from serious disabilities are treated by Laniado Hospital’s Neonatology Unit, headed by Dr. Aryeh Simmonds, where they get the medical care and love they need to make it through the first difficult days of their lives.
No one knows how the infant who came to be known as Noam ended up in Netanya trash receptacle on a cold February day, but Dr. Aryeh Simmonds, of Netanya’s Laniado Hospital, has good news: The baby is thriving, and in fact has been adopted by family that is showering him with love.
“What started out as a sad and desperate situation end ended up as wonderful example of the chessed of Klal Yisrael, who rushed forward with donations, offers of assistance and requests to adopt the baby, ”Simmonds told Hamodia. As head of the hospital’s Neonatology Department he is the first line of care for new-borns suffering from disease, trauma, disabilities, and other ills we shouldn’t know of.
The now-famous baby was the centre of national concern and worry after he was found by foreign worker on her way to her job, wrapped in blanket next to trash bin in the centre of Netanya wearing nothing but a diaper. The woman who found him took him home and called the police, who rushed him to Laniado Hospital. Till this day, police don’t know where the baby came from; doctors say he was abandoned few hours after his birth.
Baby Noam, as the infant was called by the nurses he charmed during the weeks he spent in the Neonatology Intensive Care Unit (NICU), is just one of hundreds who pass through Simmonds’ department every year. “We treated Noam using the tools and techniques we have developed over the years,” he said. “Because the baby had been exposed to the cold for hours before he was brought to us, he was suffering from hypothermia, so our first task was to raise his body temperature. After that we began treating him, checking for disease and ensuring that he got the nutrition he needed to thrive.” Other than the hypothermia which was resolved after few hours in an incubator the baby was in relatively good health. “The baby got lot of love and affection from the staff,” Simmonds said. “Eventually the hospital arranged or the baby to be adopted. Legally they can’t tell us by whom, but we know that the administration and the social workers found a warm and loving family.
Laniado Hospital is a popular destination for expectant mothers; some 8,000 babies are born there each year, of whom around 500 end up in the NICU. “The cases run the gamut,” Simmonds said, “from those who were full-term births that are having trouble breathing, to those born as early as just 23 weeks that may weigh few hundred grams.” Each infant requires specialised course of treatment, but there are some basic protocols that apply to all patients. “Most of the babies, especially those born before term, will be placed on ventilator for breathing support, an IV hook up for fluids and antibiotics, and in an incubator to keep body temperature up; in many cases the organs of these babies are not fully developed, and we need to create conditions that will help them to continue to develop,” Simmonds said.
Babies born before term are supposed to remain in the NICU until their expected date of birth, but many are healthy enough to go home a few weeks before that. “The criteria for release is being able to breathe on their own, to take in nutrition without assistance, to maintain normal body temperature, and to have minimum weight of around two kilos [4.4pounds], ”Simmonds explained.“ Baruch Hashem we are able to treat most of the babies we see successfullybut there are some cases where the situation remains serious and prolonged. In these very rare cases, we treat them until many months after their expected date of birth, and then consider transferring them to paediatric intensive care unit, ”Simmonds said. But caring for the babies is just one aspect of the NICU’s work.
Perhaps just as important is helping parents cope with their personal tragedies instead of being at home celebrating their joy over a new arrival, they face the reality of tubes, wires, medication, and uncertain health. “There’s no question that these kinds of situations can place great deal of strain on families ,”Simmonds said.
"Besides confusion, depression, and perhaps anger over their baby’s illness and their fear for its future, families fear that their children will never be fully healthy, and that even if b’ezras Hashem he or she makes it out of the NICU, they will face future rife with doctors’ visits, medication, therapies, and all the other elements of debilitating, life long illness.” Helping families cope with these feelings, and providing them with resources to deal with the aftermath of the baby’s release from the hospital, is major part of the NICU’s work. “We conduct therapy sessions for parents and connect them with social workers and psychologists here in the hospital, as well as putting them in touch with other families who have experienced the same things they are facing, ”Simmonds explained.
And of course, Simmonds and his staff realize that, ultimately, health and sickness are in the hands of Hashem. For this reason, the NICU provides Tehillim and other Sefarim for worried
Parents in its waiting rooms, and connects parents with Rabbanim both inside and outside the hospital. In very rare situations, Simmonds said, family will “crack” either falling completely or giving up on their child’s future. The staff doesn’t judge. “No one who has not faced this kind of situation can say how they would respond. We do our best to help these parents and families in whatever way we can, and if it is their decision to give up their child for adoption, we respect that decision, ”Simmonds said.
It’s not just parents who need Spiritual succor. “As you could imagine, working in an environment like this can be very difficult, for myself and the staff” Simmonds said. “There is nobody here who doesn’t think about how they would respond if chas v’shalom they were faced with these tests. And the work can be very debilitating and difficult; imagine what it’s like to spend the day jabbing babies with needles and devices.”
The staff comes through for the patients by “keeping our eyes on the bigger picture. If we don’t do the work we are doing, they will have a much harder time later on. As hard as it is now, we realise that our work makes things easier in the long run,” he said.
One thing working in the NICU does do, Simmonds added, is “make us all appreciate our own situations. I appreciate much more the gift of good health that Hashem has given me
and my family. Of course, there is no parent who doesn’t ‘suffer’ from tzaar gidul banim, but the tzaar I face is nothing compared to what the people whose children are hospitalised here suffer. All of us look at this work as shlichus. We support each other and make the best of a difficult situation.” The biggest boost for staff is when they hear from parents of babies who were treated in the NICU or get visit from former patient.
“Baruch Hashem, we have had a lot of success stories, ”Simmonds said. “I have been here at Laniado for over seven years, and in that time have been blessed to be part of many positive outcomes. In one recent case, we had a baby with a haemoglobin count of 3. 14 to 22 is normal. That baby was as white as ghost, had difficulty breathing, and suffered from lack of oxygen. Baruch Hashem, after intensive treatment, including blood transfusions and therapeutic hypothermia, the baby was able to go home, and the mother later told me that she is doing well.” In another case, a baby that was extremely ill was able to return home after prolonged hospitalization. “I recently got a video from her parents of her first steps, ”Simmonds said.
Laniado,of course, is popular among, but not only, the chareidi community, as mothers-to-be from around the country have been flocking to it in recent years, attracted by its reputation and its option for zero-separation policy, which means that the baby is with its mother from immediately after delivery. As a result, “things have gotten cozy in the NICU, which has 16 beds. When it was built, Laniado was handling3,000 deliveries year now we’re up to 8,000.”
Laniado began building new NICU, which will be ready next year, said Simmonds more than doubling the number of beds and tripling its physical space. “In addition, the building will be fortified against missile and chemical attacks, in order to enable us to continue caring for babies in an emergency without the need to move them, traumatic experience for any patient, but especially an hours-old infant. And, it will give the staff the peace of mind they need to concentrate on their work, even under the most challenging circumstances.” In fact, Laniado is in the process of updating several of its other facilities including fortified delivery unit, dialysis facility, and, in the future, an underground operating theatre and an above-ground fortified emergency room.
“Laniado is very forward-looking institution that is constantly thinking of new and better ways to serve patients,” Simmonds said. “I’m proud to be associated with it, and I’m thankful that I am able to help AM Yisrael to grow.