NICU heart rate monitoring helps keep babies healthy

2011-11-25T00:20:00Z 2011-12-29T09:06:25Z NICU heart rate monitoring helps keep babies healthyPaige Fieldsted - Daily Herald Daily Herald
November 25, 2011 12:20 am  • 

OREM -- Baby Miles lies bundled in his mother's arms, cords reaching from his tiny body to machines tracking his every heartbeat and breath. Born seven weeks early, Miles Davis is 18 days old and weighs close to five pounds.

Nurses at Timpanogos Regional Hospital come in and out, checking Miles and his vital signs, but in addition to the normal equipment and nurses, Miles has something else watching over him. It's called the Heart Rate Observer, or HeRO, system. It tracks Miles's heartbeat, and by noting the smallest changes can give doctors and nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit an advance warning if Miles is getting sick.

"You start to have symptoms up to 24 hours before you act sick, so your body knows you are getting sick but you don't," said Kari Wood, neonatal nurse practitioner at Timpanogos Regional. "So what this does is lets us know what the baby's body is doing and whether it is acting like it's infected prior to us seeing any symptoms."

Babies' heart rates are naturally irregular, but when they are beginning to get sick their heart rates tend to flatten out and slow down, which is one way the HeRO system is able to track their risk for infection. The system gives nurses a rating on a scale from zero to seven, and anything above a one means the baby is at increased risk for infection.

"All of us has a normal range of heart rate you want to be in that most of the time, but if you are getting sick often there are brief little dips that are so brief that it doesn't even send to the monitor to alarm. If you are having multiple of those that will raise your HeRO score telling us there is a sign of stress," Wood said. "That is a sign that things aren't as good as we might look at the baby and think."

For Miles's mom, Diane, having the HeRO system watching over Miles brings a sense of relief.

"The infections can hurt these babies more than anything else. You can think they are doing perfectly fine and then an infection can cause a lot of damage," Diane Davis said. "They just don't have the immune system to fight off different infections, and it is comforting to know there is the HeRO system that can catch it soon."

Miles is Davis's second baby who has spent time in the NICU. Her 4-year-old son, Carter, was in a NICU in Spokane, Wash., for 99 days after he was born at 26 weeks, in part because he got a urinary tract infection just a few days after he was born; an infection the HeRO system could have seen coming.

"With this NICU they have the HeRO system and that would've caught that sooner than they did there," Davis said. "They didn't catch it until it had been going on for a day or so and that set him back some."

Wood says when babies get an infection in the hospital it can prolong their stay by two to four weeks, but having the HeRO system in place makes sure babies don't get as sick and get to go home sooner than they might have otherwise.

"They are already here because they are sick, so then getting a secondary infection can just overwhelm their tiny little immune system," Wood said. "If we can prevent even one kid having to stay two to four weeks longer by not letting infection either develop or treating it much faster than normal we are happy."

The HeRO system uses information from the heart rate monitors already used on the babies in the NICU, so no extra cords or devices have to be attached to the tiny bodies.

Davis says after touring several other hospitals they choose the NICU at Timpanogos Regional because it had the HeRO system in place.

"We knew the new NICU would be opening up right around the time we had the baby and that it had the HeRO system, that was a big selling point as well," Davis said.

"I think it is a measure of comfort for most families. They know how fragile these babies' immune systems are and how prone to getting viruses," Wood said. "So knowing that we are watching them and staying on top of it is just immensely reassuring."

Davis said that so far Miles is healthy and they hope to have him home just in time for Christmas.

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