TAMPA — When Matayah Creighton was born, she weighed just 1 pound, 7 ounces.
Elisha Creighton feared the worst for her small, but big-eyed daughter when physicians at Tampa General Hospital told her the baby was coming nearly four-and-a-half-months early.
The whirlwind experience landed Matayah in the Jennifer Leigh Muma Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Tampa General, where she remains seven weeks later. After recovering from an emergency C-section, Creighton was discharged from the hospital. But the drive from her Dade City home to TGH began to take its toll.
That's when the 80-bed unit's new camera system became a lifesaver. The system, recently enhanced with a $133,000 grant from local benefactors Les and Pam Muma, broadcasts images of newborns privately to family members on a website.
After spending part of every day at the hospital, Creighton, 34, is able to see her daughter from her phone or tablet while at home in the evenings, where she cares for her 4-year-old son and 12-year-old stepson.
"Without the camera, I'd be more of a hot mess than I already am," she confessed.
Creighton is like the dozens of other mothers, fathers and extended family members whose little ones land in the NICU at Tampa General with after they are born, said Pam Sanders, vice president of women and children's services and the associate chief nursing officer at the hospital. The cameras provide a way for family members to stay connected to their child's recovery when they can't physically be in the hospital.
"Grandparents in Wisconsin can stay involved by watching. Or family members in the military," Sanders said.
Tampa General installed six cameras last year, which nurses moved around from patient to patient to monitor babies in the unit. The donation from the Mumas, who are well-known contributors to Tampa General and the University of South Florida College of Medicine, expanded it to provide cameras for every room.
The Tampa hospital isn't the first in the region to offer livestream cameras for this purpose. The Medical Center of Trinity in New Port Richey uses the same company, NicView, along with about a dozen other hospitals across the state.
BayCare's St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa offers "Baby Watch," a program with scheduled real-time webcam viewing of a baby through an iPad and an encrypted application.
At Tampa General, parents are given a unique login code that can be shared with as many friends and family members as they want, Sanders said. The secure online portal allows viewers to broadcast the babies 24/7.
Family members can send text messages to nursing staff or call in to the NicView call center with questions or information, which is relayed to the nurses. Nurses also can temporarily put up a "privacy screen" that blocks the camera view during a sensitive procedure, Sanders said.
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"The nurses have been trained to position the cameras so that family members have the best view of their loved ones," she said.
Without being able to hold her daughter, who uses a ventilator, Creighton struggled with providing breast milk at first. But in the quiet of her home, while she watched little Matayah sleep on the screen of her phone, she felt a closeness that helped stimulate her ability to produce milk, she said.
"I'm anxious all the time when I can't be with her," Creighton said. But Matayah continues to improve, doubling her birth weight since arriving in the NICU. Creighton says she saves photos of her daughter from the livestream on her phone.
"The camera helps," she said. "I create my own schedule around the routine I know she has at the hospital. I can pump from home now because I can see her."
Contact Justine Griffin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.