Current research aims to give premature babies best chance at healthy life

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Parents of premature babies face a tough medical journey. Just when they overcome one hurdle, another one pops up.

Newschannel 6’s Ashley Osborne talked to a doctor at the Medical College of Georgia who is working on ways to give these babies the best chance at a healthy life. She also talked to a very brave mother who lost her first child when the baby was born prematurely. Now this mother in the NICU with her newborn son. She shared with NewsChannel 6 what the research to help babies like hers means to their growing family.

“Still got a long way to go,” Shaneeka Richardson says as she looks down on her son chase who is enclosed in an incubator and connected to multiple wires and tubes.

“We had to have that talk and it was like, ‘we don’t know if he’s going to make it,’ Richardson says. ” By the next day, the doctor was like, well this is a totally different baby..”

Still, they are focused on Chase’s vital organs. Neonatologist Dr. Brian Stansfield says often just when parents get over that hump and find peace that their baby’s vital organs have stabilized, they face another struggle related to their child’s eyesight.

“You make it to 32, 34 weeks, you’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and then you find out, oh well I’m at risk for this other disease that may threaten my child’s vision,” Dr. Stansfield describes.

Dr. Stansfield just received a $2.2 million grant from the National Eye Institute to study Retinopothy of Prematurity, which can happen when the blood vessels in a baby’s eyes do not develop properly.

“[We’re studying] is there a way for us to track these babies during that 6 week interval to sort of say, hey this baby is at really high risk and we probably need to be a little bit more quick at screening and intervening. Maybe this other baby is not really at high risk and maybe we can delay screening or not intervene because I think they’re going to recover,” Dr. Stansfield explains.

Shaneeka Richardson spends most of her time surrounded by nurses and doctors like Dr. Stansield. As she takes things day by day in the hospital, she relies on in support groups full of parents like her. For those of you in a similar situation, she has this encouragement.

“There are people who their doctor said, ‘go ahead and abort, like this baby is not going to survive’ and I’m like my doctor has never said that to me,” Richardson says. “He was like you gotta get to 22-23 weeks and it’s probably unlikely, but there’s a heartbeat and so as long as there is a heartbeat go ahead to continue to pray for your baby and try. That would be my advice.”

Soon Dr. Stansfield will enroll premature babies in a study of their eye development. Chase was born a little too soon to participate, but he is part of two more studies. Richardson says he is benefiting from research on preemies before him. She hopes he can do the same for future babies.

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