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What I have in common with President JFK
The year that passed, 2013, marked the 50th death anniversary of the American President John F Kennedy. This year would have also marked the 50th birthday of his son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, born on 7 August, 1963, six weeks before he was expected to arrive. His death triggered research and development of several medical advances including use of incubators for very premature babies and administering surfactants to support the tiny lungs, helping thousands of babies later on – including mine, Aditya.

Though the baby was considered to be healthy by weight, Patrick developed what was known then as hyaline membrane disease (today referred to as Respiratory Distress Syndrome(RDS).

The death that triggered medical innovations

The death of this presidential baby has been credited with triggering medical advances that have gone to save millions of preemie babies since. There was a new focus on diseases of the newborn resulting in increased research funding for the National Institutes of Health, prompting researchers to look for effective ways to manage RDS and help these babies survive. This tragic incident has been credited to giving birth to neonatology and the modern neonatal intensive care unit or NICU.

Today, doctors can save preemies as young as 23 and 24 weeks (like my son) with the effective use of ventilators, surfactant and other advanced technologies to monitor oxygen use, prevent retinopathy of the eyes, prevent infections...


Use of ventilators for preemie babies

That same year of Patrick’s birth, a young pediatrician from Toronto Children’s Hospital, Dr Maria Delivoria-Papadopoulos, pioneered the use of a ventilator in very premature babies and had saved a sick 34-week-old baby. American doctors hadn’t successfully used this technology until then.

Dr Mary Ellen Avery, the first woman to be appointed Children’s Hospital physician-in-chief, made the crucial discovery that premature babies lacked surfactant in their lungs - a foaming soap-like coating, which develops in the lungs of babies around 34 weeks while developing in utero. While surfactant was not used to treat RDS until 1980, by 2002, fewer than 1000 babies a year died of respiratory distress.

All the above advanced technologies were used to help my son Adi – born nearly 16 weeks early, weighing 745 gms (1.6 pounds). Today, at 3, he delights us with his ability to read and list out all 50 states and capitals (and as he’s trying to give us a ‘mean boxer’ look while eating a lollipop!).


Those 99 days that helped appreciate research...

So this week, I look back with a lot of gratitude to the medical device industry for its continuous research and breakthroughs in helping and increasing human body functioning, especially in those really tiny bodies.

My husband and I spent many moments of those 99 days in the NICU staring at incubators, bili-lights, CT scanners, defibrillators, monitors and screens – noticing a J&J here, a Medtronic there, and a GE or Philips someplace else.  

So keep up the good work, everyone – keep up the research and development of new breakthrough technologies and devices – may not another Patrick be lost due to a paucity of medical technology.

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