Like many expectant parents, Rosa Perez and Robert Lagana prepared for the birth of their son. They decorated his room in a jungle theme, picked out baby essentials and settled on a hospital that was close to home.
The fact that Trinity Medical Center had a new neonatal intensive care unit was a bonus, Perez said, "but I wasn't thinking there would be a problem."
Never did she think that the first time she would lay eyes on her newborn would be on Lagana's iPhone 6 Plus as she recovered in her own hospital bed.
Robert Anthony Lagana Jr.'s due date was Sept. 13. But on Aug. 31, Perez woke up dizzy and was having difficulty breathing. Lagana took her to the emergency room at Medical Center of Trinity. It was discovered that her placenta had ruptured, putting Perez and their baby in real distress. Perez had an emergency Caesarean section, and her son, who weighed in at 6 pounds, 4 ounces, was whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit.
"It was tough," Lagana said. "We came close to losing them both."
"It was a really hard experience — kind of traumatizing," Perez said. "But it's all better now."
She was released from the hospital Sept. 3, and the baby on Sept. 7. Both are doing well.
Part of what eased the experience was an innovative, video-streaming system above each of the 12 beds in the NICU and captures the baby in real time. Parents are issued a unique ID and password that they can share with others, letting everyone log into a secure online portal and watch the infant on their computers, tablets or smartphones.
Medical Center of Trinity, a 288-bed hospital at 9330 State Road 54, is the first hospital in the Tampa Bay area and the third in the state to use this technology as a way to enhance bonding, said Mary Sommise, director of marketing. Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines are also using NicView, Sommise said, adding that the $40,000 financial investment at Trinity came from leftover construction funds from the $7 million Level II neonatal intensive care unit that opened this year.
Kurt Hornung, the hospital's information technology director, brought NicView to the attention of his superiors in April, after reading an article about other HCA facilities in Oklahoma and Texas that use the technology.
"It was kind of a personal thing," Hornung said. Fifteen years ago, his son, Preston, was born eight weeks early and taken to All Children's Hospital — now John Hopkins All Children's Hospital — in St. Petersburg.
"I thought my wife would have loved to have had this," he said, recalling the back-and-forth treks from Spring Hill to St. Petersburg and weekend stays at the Ronald McDonald House.
There are multiple scenarios where the technology comes into play — a mother who has been discharged while her baby is still being cared for, a mother who gives birth at another hospital while the baby is transferred to the NICU at Trinity, parents who go back to work while their child is still hospitalized, and grandparents and family members who live out of state.
"People miles away can be part of the birthing experience," said director of women's services Cheryl Sherrill. "It doesn't replace the face-to-face, but it helps fill a gap."
The technology is a boon to nurses caring for moms and babies, as well.
"I've found that it's reassuring that parents can check in," registered nurse Rima Rogers said. "They feel more involved in their child's care. And for nursing moms who have to pump, when they look at their baby — even if it's from their hospital bed — it helps them to produce their milk."
"It also encourages them to go home and get the rest they need," registered nurse Lori King said.
Lagana, who works for Mike Currie Electric Inc., said he made good use of NicView, propping his phone up at work sites so he could check in on his son during the day and log on from home in the middle of the night.
"I'm so thankful the camera is here," Perez said, adding that both sets of grandparents and an aunt and uncle from New York had been logging on frequently as well. "After I was released, I could go home and take a shower or take a nap and not worry so much. It helped a lot to know that I could just look at my phone and see that he was doing great."
Contact Michele Miller at [email protected]. Follow @MicheleMiller52.