Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies is home to the fourth-largest NICU in the nation, along with myriad other services for women and babies.
The atmosphere is fairly calm in the globed lobby area of Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. Families are enjoying a meal from the cafeteria or perusing the gift shop on the first floor, and new mothers are proudly being wheeled out with their babies to go home.
But in triage and the 10 floors above it, there’s so much more happening than meets the eye.
BEHIND WINNIE PALMER
More than 20 years ago, a group of pediatricians and community leaders realized the need for a center for specialized care for women and children. Orlando Health and golf legend Arnold Palmer and his wife, Winnie Palmer, joined forces to create Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women. The hospital opened in September 1989.
But by the early 2000s, more than 11,000 babies were born annually at Arnold Palmer Hospital, making it one of the busiest labor and delivery units in the nation. So in 2004, Orlando Health broke ground on Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, which opened in May 2006 and serves the needs solely of women and babies.
Now, 11 years after its grand opening, Winnie Palmer has one of the most experienced labor and delivery units in the nation and delivers up to 15,000 babies each year. Additionally, it is home to the fourth-largest Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the country, a Level III unit that specializes in subspecialty newborn care for infants born at 32 weeks gestation and under.
However, it’s more than one of the largest NICUs in the country. Winnie Palmer offers myriad specialized programs for mothers and babies, including childbirth services; childbirth and parenting classes; a high-risk maternity unit; lactation consultants; a mobile NICU; pregnancy care center; a breastfeeding helpline; fetal diagnostics; and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.
Additionally, women can receive comprehensive gynecological services, which includes treatment for cysts and fibroids, early menopause, endometriosis, pelvic pain, fecal urgency, urinary and vaginal infections, pelvic prolapse, pelvic floor disorders and gynecological cancers.
Dr. David Auerbach, the chief quality officer and a neonatologist at Winnie Palmer, has seen his share of miracles. At this point, the hospital is willing to undertake the support of babies as young as the 22- to 23-week gestation. The number of genuine survivors at that point in time is small, but Dr. Auerbach and the NICU staff work hard to help make miracles happen.
He recalls one girl who was born very prematurely, and the stress that came with trying to keep her alive was felt by both the family and medical staff.
“It can be stressful for all of us, especially on several occasions when it seemed like their little girl was doing her darnedest to try and die in front of us,” he said. “She would turn blue, we couldn’t get her to breathe, we would stand there and work through this.”
But, over the course of several months, the baby grew enough to be released from the hospital on a ventilator. When Dr. Auerbach went to her first birthday party, she was close to being able to get rid of the ventilator. By her second birthday, she was off the machine and far more like a 2-year-old. With time, caring parents and technology, he said, the outcome was ideal.
“When people come back afterward and say, ‘Here, meet so-and-so,’ the kids don’t remember you,” Auerbach said. “I’m not sure it means a whole lot to them when their parent says, ‘He saved your life!’
“But, it means a whole lot to those of us who are committed to getting the best outcomes we possibly can and seeing things that maybe at times you hardly believed could happen,” he said. “But, with enough faith and hard work, it comes through. At the end of the day, they’ve (the babies) got a lot of work to do to grow and get better. To some extent, our role is to figure out how we can best support that and not get in the way.”
And the number of miracles Winnie Palmer has seen is evident through the Children’s Miracle Network Wall of Miracles. The hallway is filled with pictures of NICU graduates who now are healthy, thriving children. While the hallway is plastered with various photos, the hospital rolled out a new digital Wall of Miracles toward the end of 2015 to showcase more of the children cared for by its NICU over the years.
Families can choose a couple of photos to share, along with their child’s name and year they were in the NICU. All of the photos are displayed on a large television screen on the 11th floor, known as the Haley Family NICU.
WELCOMING NEW LIVES
When it comes to the childbirth experience at Winnie Palmer, each of the hospital’s 30 private birthing rooms is equipped to accommodate the entire birth process. After delivery, mothers are given one hour of skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth before being transferred to their private suite. The idea is to reduce the amount of time the mother and baby are apart, with a focus on skin-to-skin contact, early feedings and more time together.
For labor and delivery nurse Sarah Rodriguez, being a part of the childbirth process and the family’s birth story is one of the most rewarding parts of working at Winnie Palmer.
“To be the person that has made that memorable, been there through scary and happy times, to have that impact that we know is lasting for the rest of their lives as they tell their birth story — that’s so rewarding,” Rodriguez said. “We get to work in a high-risk facility and see people who come in with complications that are even more fierce than just a normal delivery, but being able to walk with those patients through that is awesome.”
And when all is said and done, being able to assist families through one of the most memorable experiences of their lives is something Winnie Palmer staff loves to do.
“It’s really an honor to be here and work with patients who are having their first child or even their fourth child — it’s a really big day in their lives,” said Jessica York, assistant nurse manager for labor and delivery.
A MOTHER’S PERSPECTIVE
Three weeks ago, Clermont resident Diana Platon delivered her identical twin girls, Jianna and Jeena. But it’s been a long, hard-fought journey to get them to the place they’re in now.
Platon has five older children — all boys, ranging in age from 7 to 25 — so when she first found out she was finally having girls, the excitement was palpable. What she didn’t realize, though, is that the girls wouldn’t be arriving without a fight.
Originally pregnant with triplets — the twins and a third baby — Platon learned she had lost the third triplet, who never developed.
“Then when it was the two, I felt sad, because the other didn’t make it, but things happen for reasons,” Platon said. “I had issues from the very beginning. I was on bedrest until I was 14 weeks, off bedrest for four weeks, and then on bedrest again until I hit 25 weeks and came here.”
Platon ended up staying at Winnie Palmer’s antepartum unit from the time she hit 25 weeks until the twins were delivered at 32 weeks. One of her twins, Jianna, was diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction, a condition in which a baby doesn’t grow to normal weight during pregnancy. Platon was monitored and had daily ultrasounds and fetal heart-rate checks. When it was time to deliver, she said, it all happened so fast that she barely had time to think.
“I was on a monitor, and one of the doctors came in to see me, then he walked out and walks right back in and says, ‘You’re having the babies,’” Platon said. “I was freaking out, and the nurses took me as quickly as they could down to the OR. My heart rate was like 140, and I was scared; it was crazy. It’s very scary, but they try to make you as calm as they possibly can. It’s a hard situation, but I made it through.”
After her emergency C-section, another diagnosis came: Jianna and Jeena had twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, a disease of the placenta that affects identical twin babies. The shared placenta contains abnormal blood vessels, which cause the blood to be transfused disproportionately between twins.
The “donor twin” will have decreased blood volume, while the “recipient twin” is overloaded with blood. Jianna, the donor twin, was born extremely pale, while Jeena, the recipient, was more red.
“I couldn’t see Jianna, my husband was telling me they were working on her and Jeena for maybe 10 minutes, and they whisked them both away,” Platon said. “I got to kiss them for a second, and that was it. Once I was out of recovery, I was able to go in my bed and see the girls real quick. It was a quick hi and bye, and that was it, and then I had to wait about 12 hours before I could see them again.”
At birth, Jianna weighed 2 pounds, 3 ounces, while Jeena weighed 3 pounds, 12 ounces. There were steps forward and steps back, but at 2 weeks old, Jianna and Jeena had their own private suite on the 11th floor and were progressing well. Jeena was able to take a bottle and have her feeding tube removed, while sister Jianna continued to progress toward having hers removed.
None of the ups and downs was what Platon had envisioned, but the care she and her girls have received, as she puts it, is “the bomb.” She is staying at the Ronald McDonald House nearby to be close to her girls as they progress toward coming home.
“The nurses on the fifth floor were amazing; they made it easier for me for sure,” she said. “Here (in the NICU), it’s a whole different ballgame. You have your babies, and then you have to just trust in so many other people that your babies will be taken care of. But I wouldn’t leave the hospital if I couldn’t trust that they would take care of my girls.”
Contact Danielle Hendrix at [email protected].