Fairbanks hospital sees unusually high number of vulnerable infants

Posted: Friday, May 11, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A remarkable number of newborn infants -- 13 to be exact -- are in intensive care at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

The number is notable because it is more than twice normal and could be a record. About half of them are babies born prematurely, and the other half suffer from infections or from trauma brought on by birth.

Several of the babies are being cared for in the Infant Special Care Unit, where babies receive around the clock attention from nurses. The unit is so crowded that the rest of the babies are being cared for in the general nursery.

The hospital does not officially keep track of the numbers. But to have this many at one time happens only occasionally, nurse Alena Keller said.

Almost all of the babies have been born in the past week. Some are as small as 2 to 3 pounds and barely more than a foot long. Seven are boys and six are girls. Most are expected to remain at the hospital up to 10 days.

No one is sure why so many babies have been born needing intensive care, but the occurrence has prompted nurses to volunteer to work overtime.

The newborns are also causing talk around the hospital.

''I hear comments like 'Oh, I hear you're busy in the nursery,''' said Keller, who is manager of the Women's Center, where the special care unit is located. She led a tour of the unit on Wednesday.

The unit is actually a small room adjacent to the nursery for newborns. The babies sleep surrounded by instruments that feed them or monitor their body temperature and breathing rate.

Kristina Boettcher sat in a chair beside her daughter, Alena Marie.

Alena, who weighs 2 pounds, 10 ounces, wore blue cotton blinders over her light-sensitive eyes and a tiny blue knit cap. Her Pampers diaper might slide down her legs if she were picked up. Tubes and wires radiated from her body.

''She's doing pretty good,'' Boettcher, who had Alena nine weeks early, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

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