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Webcam system at Pittsburgh hospitals offers views from NICU

Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 11:18 p.m.
 

Phones rang constantly 25 years ago at Magee-Womens Hospital, where Thomas Kendell's premature twin daughters learned to wiggle and grin at nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“We could call a million times a day,” Kendell said on Tuesday. “But it's not the same as seeing your child's face and knowing he's OK.”

His grandson, Colin Kendell, was a Christmas miracle. Born at 32 weeks instead of the normal 40, the 8-pound, 8-week-old redhead has almost doubled in size but still can't breathe on his own. Family members who can't make it to Children's Hospital's neonatal ICU can see him with the help of a webcam above his crib.

Children's and Magee are two of three hospitals in the state to offer NICVIEW, a password-protected web-cam system purchased with a grant from the Snee-Reinhardt Foundation of Whitehall. The hospitals have logged more than 5,000 views from 33 states and the United Kingdom since UPMC turned on the cameras six weeks ago.

Hospital equipment dangled over Krysten Kendell, Colin's mom, as the 31-year-old McCandless resident adjusted the folds of her son's pastel blankets. Her hands flicked in and out of the webcam's line of sight, still visible on the cellphone lying nearby.

“This is very cool for us,” she said. “When I'm here, I'm with him, and when I'm not, we know he's doing all right.”

UPMC mounted 30 cameras above the incubators in each hospital to give families live access to video streams accessible from a computer or mobile device. Cameras are turned off during shift changes and routine care.

Officials at West Penn Hospital are considering a similar system for their new NICU, scheduled to break ground in the next couple of years, spokeswoman Jennifer Davis said.

“The cameras give parents a sense of reassurance,” said Beverly Brozanski, NICU clinical director at Children's. “If a mom or dad wakes up in the middle of the night and feels nervous, they're just a few clicks from seeing their baby.”

With log-in information from parents, family members anywhere in the world can check in on UPMC's tiniest patients.

Brozanski said viewing their babies can help breast-feeding mothers increase milk production. Feedback has been very positive, she said.

As Kendell prepares to go back to work, she said Colin's video feed will be with her around the clock. His prognosis is excellent, she said, but he could be in the hospital for a very long time.

“My husband already uses it — he works all day and can't be here during the day — but if we see that he's crying or needs something, we can call and ask (the hospital staff) to look in on him.”

Colin's grandfather, Thomas Kendell, 60, logs in a few times a day.

“With my girls, we didn't even have cellphones,” he said, tapping his phone. “Today, I woke up, and his face is right here.”

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-388-5815 ormharris@tribweb.com.

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