Hospital now staging ‘graduation ceremonies’ for premature babies upon discharge

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Gilisa and Shaquille Carty with baby G’nia at the hospital’s first ever graduation ceremony for premature babies
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By Latrishka Thomas

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What better way to celebrate tiny warriors than with a special ceremony to commemorate their victory?

In a bid to honour premature babies, the neonatal team at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre have dug deep into their creative hats and come up with the idea of graduation ceremonies for their smallest patients.

The events celebrate infants born before 30 weeks on the day they are discharged from the hospital, head of the paediatric department, Dr Shivon Belle-Jarvis, explained.

“Premature babies can spend anywhere from a month to even three months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit because, as you can imagine, these babies are born many times as big as the size of our palms,” she said.

“Many are born just over one pound and so they really are not ready for the outside world so they do experience several complications.

“So once these babies have acclimatised to being in the outside world and are better able to manage on their own, not requiring our support and are ready for discharge, we then have a graduation.”

The ceremony, though limited in numbers because of Covid, is similar to that of a typical graduation.

The parents or guardians are given a certificate as they capture the moment on camera. The baby is adorned in a formal tiny graduation gown and the family takes a celebratory walk from the NICU to the exit.

It is symbolic of “yes, you have overcome and you are finally going out to the outside world,” Belle-Jarvis said.

Most pregnancies last 40 weeks. A baby born before the 37th week is known as a premature or pre-term baby.

The first baby to be honoured was G’nia Carty who was born at 25 weeks weighing 680 grams (1.5lb). Her ceremony took place om January 28.

Her parents, Gilisa and Shaquille Carty, told Observer that they were excited to take their daughter home after about six months in the NICU – a moment they say they “will never forget”.

“We were filled with emotion; excited, teary-eyed because of her journey. Her journey was very long and up and down and we prayed for the day to come and it came and we were very excited, happy and blessed and grateful for the Lord that we will be able to take her home,” Gilisa remarked.

Recent studies show that babies born just three to six weeks early are at a greater risk for potentially serious health problems than full-term newborns.

Dr Belle-Jarvis disclosed that the smallest baby ever born at the hospital was only 24 weeks and six days, and weighed in at just over 600 grams (1.3lb).

She also revealed that, overall, eight percent of live births in Antigua and Barbuda are premature, but 16 to 26 percent of the admissions to the NICU are premature with roughly two percent of them being extremely premature, ie less than 28 weeks.

In 2020, 1,154 babies were born at the hospital.

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