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Dr. Gupta: Saving Emma in the storm

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Wed October 31, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Transporting premature babies can be anxiety-provoking, Gupta says
  • Their medical needs make them especially fragile
  • Emma was among patients evacuated from NYU Langone Medical Center
  • Gupta says meeting Emma, who is stable, gave him goose bumps

New York (CNN) -- The first time I held a premature baby was nearly two decades ago during medical school. The baby weighed just 3 pounds, and I remember being so afraid I might drop her. While I stared into her eyes, it gave me goose bumps.

The parents hadn't yet given her a name because they worried she wouldn't survive. The neonatal ICU (NICU) nurses were truly remarkable, taking care of these preemies, and making it all seem so effortless.

I do remember the most anxiety-provoking times surrounded the transport of these babies. Even if it was just one floor away, there was a plan laid out with clear communication and a defined role for the half a dozen NICU nurses who would accompany the baby. There was a commander of the transport, and several contingencies for worst-case scenarios.

I remember asking one of the nurses, "What is the safest way to transport this baby?" Her reply: "In the womb."

She was right, and if you consider the number of risks to a premature baby, you understand why.

The heart rate of tiny babies can suddenly drop, and they can even develop a complete heart block. They require oxygen, but not too much because they are at risk of oxygen toxicity to their lungs.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Dr. Sanjay Gupta

They can barely regulate their temperature, and they have a larger body surface area to mass ratio, which makes the problem even worse. They can lose fluids rapidly, and they don't yet have glycogen stores in their liver. So, not getting a timely meal could prove fatal.

Imagine any of these things happening outside of the ICU, and now compound that by 100. That is what took place Monday night at NYU's Langone Medical Center. As you watch the video of these babies being rushed through the streets of New York, you now have a better idea of just how involved all of this really was.

At about 10:30 p.m. Monday, with generators failing and widespread internal flooding, hospital staff called the CEO of Mount Sinai, Dr. Kenneth Davis, and asked for help.

He immediately approved the transfer of 64 patients, including three mothers in labor and seven newborn babies. One of them was Emma, just 13 days old and weighing only 2 pounds.

Emma's parents were in New Jersey, watching in horror as they learned the hospital was being evacuated. Shortly thereafter, they lost power and had no way of driving back into the city of Manhattan. As a parent myself, that part of their story really got to me the most. They were completely in the dark, stranded and helpless.

I met Emma just a few hours after she arrived at Mount Sinai. She was in the NICU, and was perfectly stable. There were lots of tears of joy in the hospital, as families were reunited for the first time.

Resilient, was how one of the nurses described little Emma. Still gives me goose bumps.

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