Fetal care program helps mothers, babies with high-risk births

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Jocelyn Palmer is about to celebrate her 1st birthday. To look at her, you’d never know she was a baby born under high-risk conditions.

In fact, her mom’s pregnancy was seemingly normal, right up until the very end.

“We didn’t find out until 32 weeks. Everything seemed fine,” Kristen Palmer said.

That’s was when a standard ultrasound raised concerns and the about-to-be new mother was sent for more detailed imaging with a specialist.

“He said there was a cyst on her back, right above her butt, and he said it’s spina bifida and we were just completely caught off guard — we never heard of it before,” Kristen said.

She and her husband, John, were immediately connected with the Fetal Care Center at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Coral Gables.

It was a 3-hour drive from their home in Cape Coral, Fla., but they didn’t hesitate to make the trip. They knew the pregnancy, and the baby’s birth, had become too complicated for Kristen to deliver at a local hospital.

“She’d have to be airlifted to Miami or she would have to go by ambulance because they would have to do surgery on her within like 24 hours,” said John.

The Fetal Care Center was established as a way to take care of all aspects of high-risk pregnancies.

“About a year ago our fetal care program grew as we added a special-delivery unit, so now, not only can we provide that care and the support prenatally to our moms, we’re actually able to deliver a select number of these high risk-babies here in our unit,” said Dr. Saima Aftab, with Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.

The multi-disciplinary team can address a variety of needs at a time when a period of joy can suddenly become a period of incredible uncertainty.

“Having a program like this really allows families and parents to start to understand exactly what to expect for their baby — what’s going on with them, who are the specialists, what type of treatment and surgery will be needed and how can everybody line-up to provide the best outcome and care,” Aftab said.

When baby Jocelyn underwent surgery shortly after birth, her mother was able to be right by her side.

“We were really blessed to have her there and get the care we got,” Kristen said.

The Fetal Care Center at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital is only one of a handful around the country and currently the only one of its kind in Florida.

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