Fetal Care Center Offers Hope for Families Expecting a Baby with Complex Medical Needs

A mother learns her unborn baby has a severe heart defect or that the fetus’s internal organs are protruding through the baby-to-be’s tiny abdominal wall. An entire family is soon engulfed in anxiety: What will happen to the baby? Who will care for her? What will her future be? 

Enter the Fetal Care Center at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. This comprehensive service, developed in 2017 through a collaboration with Boston-based Brigham and Women’s Hospital, establishes a supportive network for families expecting an infant with complex medical needs, including congenital differences such as heart defects, neurological conditions, craniofacial anomalies and more.

“When expectant parents learn their baby will have complex medical issues, it can affect the well-being of the entire family,” said Dr. Saima Aftab, Director of the Fetal Care Center. “Our goal is to shine a light into the unknown. We can help the family obtain a diagnosis through sophisticated imaging and introduce them to the care team that will be supporting them once the baby arrives. Being prepared and knowing about the care plan can be a tremendous help.”

It all begins with a call to a Fetal Care Center nurse navigator. Nurse navigators are available around the clock. They serve as points of contact and care coordinators, facilitating appointments for diagnostic testing and subspecialty physician consults on behalf of the fetal medicine physician, referring pediatrician, perinatologist or obstetrician.

“We understand the importance of having a key contact who can be reached at any time of day or night,” said Dr. Aftab. “Our nurse navigators are available to support the family through the baby’s birth and beyond, as the baby receives specialist pediatric care.”

Often, appointments for diagnostics, including fetal ultrasound, fetal MRI, fetal echocardiography and consults with specialty pediatricians who will care for the child after birth can all be scheduled within a single day.

Also as part of the Fetal Care Center, a 10-bed high-risk fetal and special delivery unit is under development on the Nicklaus Children’s campus. The unit is being designed for healthy mothers expecting a baby who will need advanced medical intervention from birth to ensure the infant can readily transition to one of Nicklaus Children’s renowned intensive care units, including the neonatal, pediatric (for infants requiring extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) and cardiac, for those with congenital heart defects. This special birthing unit will enable mothers to stay close to their babies after birth, supporting the bonding experience.   

For more information on the Fetal Care Center, please visit www.nicklauschildrens.org/fetalcare

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A new Fetal Care Center Unit is slated to open in 2018.