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Tuvia Blechman, M.D., is arguably the father of the Lundy Family Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at HCGH. He and his wife, Zippy, have seven children of their own, including two sets of triplets. As director of the NICU for 22 years, he has cared for many thousands more. When the unit opened in 1990, it fulfilled a need in Howard County. At the time, approximately 2,400 babies were delivered here each year. Those born prematurely, or in need of intensive care for other reasons, required a transfer to other hospitals. Dr. Blechman and his co-director at the time, Pauline Sisone-Reyes, M.D., who died in 1994, began this much-needed program that has helped local parents keep their premature babies close to home and in the hands of a dedicated, highly skilled and compassionate team of neonatal professionals.
“When I learned about the job, it was a dream come true,” explains Dr. Blechman. “We had a brand new unit and were welcomed by the obstetricians and pediatricians as well as the hospital executives, staff and families in the community.” It was a great opportunity for the young doctor to build a program. As his family grew, so did the NICU.
Dr. Blechman with his wife Zippy and their
seven children, including two sets of triplets.
The NICU has evolved quite a bit in its treatment methods and techniques as well as the physical space and environment. First housed in a small space on the ground level of the hospital, the unit initially had the capacity to care for six to 12 babies. In 2002, a new unit opened on the second floor of the hospital. “We learned many things through the years about the importance of the environment in caring for neonates,” says Dr. Blechman. “We incorporated that knowledge into the design of the new unit with low light and noise levels as well as private care spaces for each infant and family. It’s what’s known as ‘parent-centered’ care, and the parents are very involved in the baby’s care.”
Caring for Fragile Newborns Evolved
In the unit’s early days, babies with breathing problems were treated fairly aggressively with ventilators and oxygen to help them breathe and steroids to help their lungs develop. While these treatments improved the baby’s lung health, the side effects could be devastating, including lasting vision problems. In the ensuing years, more advanced treatment methods and equipment, such as oscillating ventilators, have helped achieve the same results in a gentler way. This special equipment is often made possible by generous donors who are grateful NICU parents themselves.
Dr. Blechman in the NICU.
Today, thanks to a lifelong commitment by Dr. Blechman and a dedicated team, a principal strength of the NICU program is the vast amount of experience among the nurses, physicians and nurse practitioners, most of whom have 20–25 years of experience. Add to that the sophisticated, specialized technology and around-the-clock access to world-renowned experts at Johns Hopkins, and HCGH’s NICU program has the ability to care for some of the sickest babies right here in Howard County. The highly trained Hopkins neonatologists who staff the unit full time are in constant contact with specialists at Hopkins. For example, Johns Hopkins pediatric radiologists remotely read all NICU images and are available 24/7 to discuss patients’ conditions. This is an essential service because, if there is a problem, doctors know right away and can intervene. Pediatric cardiologists from Johns Hopkins read echocardiograms and can provide video consultations with parents sitting in our hospital. Specialized pediatric surgeons can perform many procedures at HCGH now, as well.
Family-centered Care a Staple from the Beginning
Moira Mattingly’s daughter Emily, spent nearly five months in the NICU in 2004. “The whole team gave us straight information, never seemed rushed and took extra care,” says Moira. In addition to caring for Emily, the nurses “taught us how to change her diaper because we couldn’t hold her and told us how to touch her and move her. Dr. Blechman has such a gentle nature, not just with the babies but the parents; I was struck by how empathetic he was. He has a lot of responsibility but you’d never guess when he comes by and spends time chatting. He remembers all of the kids and parents. He has a genuine passion for his job. You have to be a special person to do this work. It’s a calling.” View Moira and Emily's story
When asked what he likes about his work, Dr. Blechman simply says, “I can see real results, and I feel like I made a difference. The relationships you develop with the families are very special.”
Each year, about 10 percent of babies born at HCGH will spend time in the NICU.
Those parents can be reassured that they are receiving the best care possible. “Most of the care can be done right here,” says Dr. Blechman. “We have a lot of experience and good equipment and can provide excellent care, with the strength of Johns Hopkins behind us 24/7.”