By Kim Walter
WINCHESTER -- Steve and Sarah Kahle never thought they'd experience Winchester Medical Center's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as they prepared for the birth of their first daughter, Sydney.
The girl was born at 31 weeks, and required a more than six-week stay in the old ward-style unit.
The couple's second child, Mackenzie also came a bit early at 35 weeks on Sept. 30. She did alright and was sent home, but just a week after her birth was admitted into the new NICU due to issues with jaundice and difficulty staying warm.
"If we were in this same situation when Sydney was born, we wouldn't have been able to bring her back to the NICU," Mrs. Kahle said Friday morning.
The old facility consisted of a large room that offered little comfort or privacy for parents and their children. Because NICU babies are very susceptible to illness and external influences, a newborn who had already been discharged to go home wouldn't have been able to gain access.
The new NICU, which opened in February 2012, is one of only a few in the tri-state area to have private patient rooms. There are a total of 30 patient beds, including those for twins and triplets.
Private rooms allow the light, sound and temperature environment to be individualized for each baby based on gestational age -- a proven benefit in neurodevelopment. The personalized rooms also encourage family bonding and involvement in care.
A kitchenette, resource library, private showers and laundry facilities are also available to parents and families of NICU babies.
"The care has always been exceptional, both in the old unit and the new one," Mr. Kahle said. "But this time around, it was much more calm ... we only had to worry about what was going on in our room with our baby."
In the old NICU, Mrs. Kahle had to wait for screens in order to get any type of privacy for feeding.
This time around, the parents were able to stand by Mackenzie around the clock, and Sydney could also be in the room with her little sister. Unlike the old ward-style unit, each room has a place for family members to sleep so they can be close by at all times.
Mr. Kahle said around the time Sydney was born, a new television show came out, focusing on babies in the NICU.
"I remember seeing that and never wanting to have to experience it," he said. "But this place is so different and so much more comforting than what other people have to deal with."
During the couple's 47-day stay in the old NICU, they could see the new facility being built.
"I remember a doctor told us, 'That's the new one, but you won't be able to use it,'" Steve Kahle said, laughing. "But here we are. At least this is a much shorter stay."
The parents are hopeful that Mackenzie will be discharged by Monday, as long as her jaundice levels don't go back up.
When they first got there, they were worried since Mackenzie was sick. Because they had their own room and were able to stay, the couple got constant updates on her levels and had no trouble contacting a doctor or nurse.
"I think everything just felt stressful before," Mrs. Kahle said. "But look, Mackenzie is sleeping, and has been so calm. No distractions, no bright lights ... just amazing care."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or email@example.com